Ever gotten a call from a suspicious ‘Amazon employee’ asking to log into your computer? Or perhaps you’ve put your credit card details into an online store where the prices are ridiculously cheap, only to never receive your order. Yikes.
These examples aren’t just frustrating customer service experiences – they’re fairly common attempts at identity theft. Identity-related crimes are happening all the time, whether over the phone, via dodgy websites, emails, or even in person.
Table of Contents
10 Ways To Protect Yourself From Identity Theft
- Clear your name from marketing lists
- Password protect your devices (properly!)
- Check your credit report regularly
- Set up fraud alerts
- Shred your paper (and plastic) trail!
- Be careful what you share on social media
- Use a secure VPN
- Use 2-factor authentication
- Know exactly who you’re giving out information to
- Use a good antivirus program
More About Identity Theft
- Common identity theft situations
- The negative effects of identity theft
- How to react when your identity is stolen
These phonies will stop at nothing to get their hands on your personal information. But with a few simple precautions, you can protect yourself from falling victim to ID scams. In this article, we’ll outline some steps you can take to safeguard your personal information and reduce the risk of identity theft. Let’s get started!
10 Ways To Protect Yourself From Identity Theft
If you’ve been caught out by an identity thief, you’ll know how frustrating and embarrassing it can be. And who has time to start their financial life over from scratch? Not us.
Thankfully, there are ways to protect yourself from identity theft and minimize the chances of it happening in the first place. Here are 10 of the very best.
1. Clear your name from marketing lists
In an age where our data is leaked all over the internet – quite literally – there’s no telling how many people have been sold your personal information. If you get spammy emails from a website you never subscribed to, that’s a pretty good indication that your name and email address have been compromised.
The best way to clear your name from marketing lists is to call the Do-Not-Call registry, then unsubscribe from as many spam accounts as possible. Remember that some websites automatically sign you up to other marketing lists when you subscribe, so even if you unsubscribe from the original email, you may still be getting spam from other sources.
2. Password protect your devices (properly!)
If someone has access to your computer or phone, they can quite easily access all of your personal information, and that includes passwords and bank account details. Make sure to password protect all of your devices, and don’t use the same passwords for different accounts.
Don’t just use your dog’s name, either (though it may be tempting) – make sure your passwords are strong and unique. A good way to create a strong password is to use a combination of numbers, letters, and special characters. iPhones will often recommend strong passwords when you’re setting up a new account.
Better yet – consider checking out a password manager like 1Password or LastPass. These services will create and store strong passwords for all of your accounts, so you don’t have to remember them yourself.
3. Check your credit report regularly
One of the best ways to protect yourself from identity theft is to keep an eye on your credit report. You can get a free copy of your credit report every year from AnnualCreditReport.com, and it’s a good idea to check it for any suspicious activity.
There are a couple of key things to check for when you’re looking at your credit report:
- Are there any new accounts that you don’t recognize?
- Has anyone tried to open a loan in your name?
- Are there any addresses or phone numbers that you don’t recognize?
If you notice anything fishy, take action ASAP – even if you’re not 100 percent sure the anomaly is fraud. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
4. Set up fraud alerts
If you’re worried that your personal information may have been compromised, you can set up a fraud alert on your credit report. This will notify creditors that they should take extra steps to verify your identity before approving any loans or credit applications.
To set up a fraud alert, you’ll need to contact one of the three credit agencies – Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion. You can either do it online, over the phone, or by mail. Keep in mind that you may need to provide some form of identification, like your driver’s license number.
5. Shred your paper (and plastic) trail!
This one may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s amazing how many people still don’t shred their personal documents. If you don’t want your personal information falling into the wrong hands, make sure to shred anything with your name or address on it, including bank statements, utility bills, and credit card offers.
And don’t forget about your credit cards and debit cards – always destroy the magnetic strip before throwing them away. You can do this by cutting it with a pair of scissors, or using a shredder. The reason you want to destroy the magnetic strip is that it contains all of your personal information, including your account number and expiration date.
6. Be careful what you share on social media
It’s no secret that social media is a goldmine for identity thieves. If you’re not careful, they can easily find out your name, address, date of birth, and even your passwords.
To protect yourself from social media identity theft, be careful about what you share online. Don’t post anything that could give away your personal information, like your address or date of birth. And always use strong passwords for your social media accounts.
7. Use a secure VPN
A VPN (virtual private network) is another great way to protect your online identity. It creates an encrypted tunnel between your computer and the VPN server, which helps keep your data safe from hackers and identity thieves. They come in especially handy if you’re using public WiFi in places like airports and cafes, where hackers can easily snoop on your online activities without you knowing.
Encryption is essentially the holy grail of internet security. It scrambles your data so that no one can read it (not even pro hackers) unless they have the correct decryption key. We’ve done plenty of research and reviews on VPNs – here’s our round up of the best VPNs.
8. Use 2-factor authentication
This is a security feature that requires you to provide two forms of identification in order to log in to your account. You’ve probably encountered it when using services like PayPal; you’re asked to enter your password and then a 6-digit code that’s sent to your phone, which helps to prove that it’s really you trying to log in.
2-factor authentication is a great way to protect your online identity, because even if someone manages to steal your password, they won’t be able to access your account without the code. To find out whether a website or service allows 2-factor authentication, just do a quick Google search – you’ll find that most of the popular ones do.
9. Know exactly who you’re giving out information to
A great rule of thumb to follow when it comes to protecting your identity is to only give out your information to websites and services that you trust.
If you’re not sure whether a website is legitimate or not, don’t hesitate to do some research online. You can usually find out whether a website is safe by reading reviews from other users.
In other words – the next time you go on an impulsive shopping spree (we see you there with that full cart!), resist the urge to buy from the spammy-looking websites where everything appears to be magically on sale. Also note that legitimate stores will have HTTPS security certificates, while the sketchy ones likely won’t.
10. Use a good antivirus program
Last but not least, make sure you’re using a good antivirus program to protect your computer from malware and viruses. These programs can help protect your computer against identity theft by scanning your devices for any malicious software that might be trying to steal your information.
Antivirus programs like Bitdefender and Kaspersky are some of the best on the market, and they offer a range of features to help keep you safe online.
Each of these methods is great – but you know what’s better? Use them all! Identity theft is a serious problem, and the more precautions you take to protect yourself, the better.
Common identity theft situations to be aware of
Now that you’ve got eleven solid strategies for avoiding fraud, let’s backtrack a little and look at some common examples of when identity theft might happen. You can best protect yourself by understanding the various ways crooks try to get your personal data and then taking steps to thwart them.
1. ATM skimming
Have you ever seen special wallets that have protective technology to stop thieves from scanning your credit card information? That’s because skimming is a common way to steal someone’s identity.
Skimmers are criminals who install small devices on ATMs and other machines that read your card number and then store it in a database. Sometimes they’ll simply walk past you in a store and scan your card without you even knowing.
When URL phishing, the phisher will set up a replica website with which to lure customers of big names like banks, financial services, and eCommerce stores. They may also send an email or text message that looks like it’s from a legitimate company, such as your bank or credit card issuer.
The message will ask you to click on a link or provide your login information. If you do, the phisher will have access to all of your personal data.
3. Dumpster diving
Here’s another old-fashioned technique that still works today. Thieves will go through your trash to look for bills, bank statements, credit card offers, and anything else with your personal information on it (hence why we said ‘shred your paper trail!’)
4. Trojan horses
If you’ve ever clicked on a link in an email that you weren’t sure about, you might have been infected with a Trojan horse. This is a type of malware that installs itself on your computer and gives the thief access to all of your data.
The common signs of a Trojan horse infection are strange pop-ups, a slowed-down computer, and a sudden increase in spam. If you think you might be infected, run a virus scan immediately.
5. Social engineering
This method requires a fair amount of skill on the part of the thief, but it’s one of the most successful ways to get someone’s personal information.
Social engineering is when a criminal calls or emails you and tries to get you to reveal your passwords or other sensitive information. They might claim to be from your bank or credit card company and ask for verification of your account information.
6. Shoulder surfing
Someone standing a little too close to you in line at the grocery store? Maybe you’re at an ATM and the person behind you is peering over your shoulder. This is shoulder surfing, and it’s a way for thieves to get your PIN or other sensitive information.
As we mentioned earlier, malware is a type of software that can be installed on your computer without your knowledge. It can do anything from track your keystrokes to stealing your personal information. The best way to protect yourself from malware is to keep your computer software up-to-date and use a good antivirus program.
8. Wi-Fi sniffing
Free Wi-Fi is great – don’t get us wrong. But be warned: anyone can see what you’re doing on your computer if you’re not using a secure connection. Wi-Fi sniffing is a way for criminals to intercept your data as it travels over the network. The best way to protect yourself is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) when you’re on public Wi-Fi.
These are some of the most common situations, but keep in mind that scammers and identity thieves lurk in all sorts of places – not just the dark corners of the internet, but also on the surface of the web, where they can easily pose as a legitimate company or individual. So always be vigilant and take steps to protect yourself from identity theft.
The negative effects of identity theft
You might be wondering – if someone steals my information, what’s the big deal? Can’t I just lock my credit card and move on? Unfortunately, the effects of identity theft can be far-reaching and incredibly damaging.
The first thing to understand is that when your personal information is stolen, the thief essentially has a blank slate with which to create havoc in your life. They can open new credit cards in your name, take out loans, and even file for bankruptcy in your name. You’re then also vulnerable to doxxing which could put you in serious danger.
In addition, identity theft can also lead to serious financial losses. If someone uses your personal information to open a new credit card account, for example, they might run up a large bill that you’re then responsible for. You might also have to spend time and money repairing the damage that’s been done to your credit score.
Finally, identity theft can also have a negative impact on your personal life, both physically and emotionally. Take a look at these alarming stats from a 2016 Identity Theft Resource Center survey:
- After experiencing identity theft, 74% of respondents reported feelings of stress
- Suicidal thoughts affected 8%
- 69% experienced heightened anxiety, and 60% felt increased fear
- 41% couldn’t sleep properly
- 29% had new physical illnesses and ailments
Clearly, identity theft can have a significant negative impact on your life. It’s important to take steps to protect yourself from this type of crime.
How to react when your identity is stolen
If someone has succeeded in stealing your personal information, don’t panic – all hope isn’t lost, and there are systems in place to help you recover.
- File a police report and contact your financial institutions, as they can help you start to address the issue. You’ll also want to get a copy of the police report to provide to credit bureaus.
- Place a fraud alert on your credit report by contacting one of the three major credit agencies: Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion. Doing so will let creditors know they need to take additional steps before opening any new accounts in your name.
- Freeze your credit reports by contacting all three of the credit agencies. This will prevent anyone from opening new accounts in your name, as they won’t be able to access your credit report without your permission.
- Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and file a complaint. The FTC can help you track the progress of your case and provide additional resources.
- Continue to monitor your credit reports and credit score, and be sure to report any suspicious activity immediately.
Conclusion: Start Protecting Yourself From Identity Theft
Identity theft can happen to anyone, and it’s important to be proactive in protecting yourself from this growing crime. Remember to use the emotional support around you, too; lean on family and friends to help you through this difficult time, just as they’d lean on you.