Identity theft affects many millions of Americans on a daily basis. If you aren’t one of the more than 13 million victims from 2015, maybe you’re one of the over 12 million victims from the year prior. Even if not, there’s a very good chance you’ll get targeted even in just the next 5 to 10 years based on these numbers.
So you need to know how to keep safe from various common identity theft tactics. This is easier said than done given how many new techniques are available to fraudsters in the digital age.
However, you stand a very good chance at preventing the risk of identity theft by applying all of the following 10 tips!
1. Freeze your credit report
Nothing is more effective at preventing identity theft than a security freeze, but most don’t learn this until it’s too late.
All the major credit bureaus let you do it. While there’s usually a fee of between $3 and $10 to place the freeze, and a small fee for lifting it, putting one on your file is well worth it.
This will protect you against new account fraud. If an identity thief has your personal information, they will not be able to open a new credit account under you. This is because the freeze can only be lifted if you authorize the credit bureau to do so; only your current creditors will be able to pull your credit report with the freeze in place.
2. Do an Online Safety Audit
You never know when there are vulnerabilities in your online identity, or on your computer in general. You need to make sure it’s all secure, both what you send digitally and how you send it. This means you want a firewall in place, an antivirus program that works, and you’ll have to be extra careful on public Wi-Fi.
Also, make sure your social media security settings are optimized. As an example, you don’t want to show off your About information on Facebook – nor do you want your security question answer to be easy to guess.
But many find a way to access your accounts, to read your messages, and to inspect your files (big identity theft risks!), and when gaining access is as simple as finding out your mother’s hometown it’s more a matter of ‘when not if’ you get hacked.
3. Get a Copy of Your Credit Report
It’s important to make sure your information has not already been compromised. The best way to do this is to request a free copy of your credit report. Then you can review it for any unauthorized entries, which might be signs of identity fraud. Once this review is done, and you have a security freeze placed, you won’t have much to worry about.
You can request a free copy of your report from each of the three bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) on AnnualCreditReport.com; this the government-authorized site for the free once-a-year credit report.
4. Set Up Free Credit Monitoring
There are a few credit monitoring services available at no cost. While you won’t get as many features as with a premium plan, it’s still advantageous to have. The best ones are Credit Karma, Credit Sesame, Mint, and Quizzle.
Dough Roller has a nice post comparing the top free credit monitoring services. It reviews three of these four in-depth – Credit Karma, Credit Sesame, and Mint. Take a look at it to get an idea of what each of these free services offer, and also their limitations.
5. Consider Investing in ID Theft Protection
Identity theft prevention companies have been blacklisted by most consumers because they think it’s just a big scam. While there are many potential concerns that come with such a service, you really just need to know what you’re paying for.
No ID protection company guarantees 100% safety from identity theft. The truth is that you can still become a victim very easily if your information gets compromised. So you have to do your due diligence to stay safe, both online and offline.
You can find a detailed list on Elite Personal Finance that reviews the 10 best identity theft companies and what they offer. This website explains everything each provider offers, what their plans are missing, and how much it all costs.
6. Make Sure You Aren’t an Online ID Theft Victim
Surprisingly, millions are not aware that their personal information has already been shared online. You can find out if your credentials were revealed by searching on HaveIBeenPwned.com for your email address. If you signed up anywhere that suffered from a data breach or hack, they will likely have a log that your information was compromised. Further, you can set up notifications so you get an email alert the moment your data gets shared online.
7. Clean Up Your Home of Data-Sensitive Paperwork
There could easily be a ton of personal identifying information lying around at your house. The same applies to your workplace. So take some time to make sure anything you don’t need is shredded or disposed of in an efficient way. If you need to keep certain documents, just put them in your filing cabinet or a safe.
8. Invest in a USB Stick or External Hard Drive
The best way to store your information is digitally. But it’s not on your computer, as any security compromise will quickly reveal everything that’s there. Instead, you want to store everything on a USB stick or on an external drive. You can delete it from your computer once you have a copy put away in your backup storage.
9. Get a Copy of Your Social Security Statement
It’s a good idea to request a copy of your Social Security statement from SSA.gov as it will tell you when and how your SSN has been used. This will show you if anyone tries to work under your name or claim medical benefits as you, among many other things. You have the right to review your Social Security statement, so take advantage of it.
10. Redirect Mail When You Know You’re Moving
As soon as you figure out you’re moving, make sure to redirect your mail to a safe location. This could be your parent’s house, your next address, or even a PO box. You never know when certain mail will stop getting sent to your old address. To reduce the risk of any new tenants, occupants, or mail thieves catching your mail (with your personal data), simply redirect the mail ahead of time.