How to Protect Yourself From Identity Theft  

Rohan Mathew

Updated on:

Identity theft is when your personal information is obtained with the intention to commit fraud. Criminals can use this information to get medical services, acquire tax information, or apply for credit. These acts can cost you money and time and damage your credit status over the long term. A quick background check can reveal whether your personal information has been used with malicious intent.

ID Theft: Warning Signs 

It’s not always easy to know you’ve fallen victim to theft right after the fact. It will take some time. Sure signs of identity theft include receiving bills for items you didn’t purchase, being denied a loan you didn’t apply for, and debt collection calls or letters referencing unfamiliar accounts.  

Older people and children are most vulnerable to this crime, but it can happen to anyone. What’s dangerous about child ID theft in particular is that you don’t find out about it for years on end. Sometimes, people find out when they’re adults applying for credit. 

Older people tend to be quite generous with their personal data, sharing it with care providers and doctors even when unasked for. The number of offices and individuals that obtain access to their data puts them at risk. 

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Protect Yourself 

Review your bank account and credit card statements and compare statements with receipts. Keep an eye out for unauthorized transactions. 

If you’re using public wi-fi, update the firewall settings. It’s best to use a virtual private network (VPN) on unsecured wi-fi. 

Shred expired credit cards, account statements, credit offers, and receipts. Install virus detection software and firewalls on your home computer. 

Create Complex Passwords 

Thieves can guess simple passwords easily. If a company you’re doing business with suffers a database breach, change your passwords without delay. Attackers often get password info in a data breach. Change your password if a company notifies you of a possible breach. If you’re using similar passwords for any other accounts, change them as well. 

Avoid generic information and common phrases. Don’t use data like your phone number or birthday that many people will be familiar with. Cybercriminals often use dictionaries of information and passwords that have been exposed in the past to help them guess new passwords.

If you’re going to have trouble remembering your passwords like most people, consider a password manager. This is an app that stores passwords and security questions in one place. It goes without saying your password for this app should be strong and complex. 

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Opt for Fraud Alerts on Your Credit Report 

Fraud alerts warn companies to have your identity confirmed before processing an application. This makes it harder for criminals to open accounts in a victim’s name. Fraud alerts are free and effective from three months to seven years, depending on the alert type. You just need to contact one of the three credit bureaus. 

One further benefit of a credit report fraud alert is a free copy of the report. When you receive it, check for any suspicious activity. 

Once a year, review your credit reports. Make sure they don’t include accounts you never opened.

You can also opt for a credit freeze with Transunion, Equifax, Innovis, Experian, and the National Consumer Exchange. This will keep people from obtaining approval for utility services or a credit account without your knowledge.

Security Questions 

You can make sure identity thieves won’t find the answer to your security questions and hack your account. The first step is choosing questions only you know the answer to. Maybe it can be something related to your profession or another area of expertise. It could be an unexpected answer, such as, “What sport did I love playing in high school?” “None at all.” Avoid answers someone could guess based on publicly available information, such as your place of birth, zip code, or past addresses. 

Answers that one can guess easily won’t secure your data adequately. Don’t choose questions with a limited number of possible answers, such as countries, states, colors, and dates. 

Avoid common answers to security questions. If you must choose a memorable answer, make it more complicated than a single word. If the question is about your best childhood memory, an answer like “watching Boris Becker’s matches with my uncle” is better than just “watching tennis games.”  

If you suspect you’ve been the victim of identity theft, report it to the responsible government watchdog at once. This is the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the US.