When you learn how to stop identity theft, you can take the necessary steps to ensure it never happens to you or your family
Every day when you turn on the news, there are more and more stories about violent crimes in your local area and around the world. However, one type of crime claims victims every single day, ruins lives, and rarely makes headlines—identity theft.
If you’re not entirely sure what identity theft is, the U.S. Department of Justice provides a definition:
“Identity theft and identity fraud are terms used to refer to all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain.”
According to the 2015 Identity Fraud Study released by Javelin Strategy & Research, there was a new identity fraud victim every two seconds in 2014. That same year, $16 billion was stolen from 12.7 million U.S. consumers. The most common types of identity theft as reported by the Federal Trade Commission include:
- Government documents or benefits fraud – 38.7%
- Credit card fraud – 17.4%
- Phone or utilities fraud – 12.5%
- Bank fraud – 8.2%
- Attempted identity theft – 4.8%
- Employment-related fraud – 4.8%
- Loan fraud – 4.4%
- Other identity theft – 21.8%
Identity theft comes in many forms, and if you don’t remain vigilant about protecting your personal information, you’re making yourself vulnerable to sneaky criminals who would love to steal your identity. Learn how to stop identity theft from happening to you, and take the necessary steps to protect yourself and your family.
Tips for how to stop identity theft online and offline
Identity thieves are always waiting for you to slip up. They want you to let your guard down and click that suspicious link or enter your PIN at the ATM while someone is standing a little too close to you. They’re counting on people who develop the “identity theft could never happen to me” mentality.
Don’t be one of those people.
- Be careful with your mail. Identity thieves love to steal mail that could potentially hold your personal information. If you have a curbside mailbox at home, don’t put your outgoing mail in there—go to the post office or drop it in a United States Postal Service mailbox. When you go out of town, place a hold on your mail delivery until you get back. And finally, don't just toss junk mail or old bills into your recycling bin! Shred anything that has your name, address, account numbers, or other identifying information.
- Protect your Social Security number. For many thieves, obtaining a victim’s Social Security number (SSN) is the Holy Grail of identity theft. When someone has your SSN, they can do a lot of damage—so give it out sparingly and only when absolutely necessary. Don’t keep your Social Security card in your wallet. Commit the number to memory and lock the card up in a safe place at home. If you need to provide someone with your SSN, be aware of the people around you who may be listening to you speak. If you can, write the number down, give it to the person who needs the number, and ask for it back when they are done.
- Only make secure online payments. It’s easier than ever to buy merchandise online, but that also means cyber criminals are always coming up with new ways to trick you into giving them your financial information. When buying things online, only enter your credit card number on secure websites whose URL begins with “https” rather than just “http” and that have a lock symbol next to the URL. Also, be careful about links you receive in emails. Some identity thieves employ a scam called “phishing” where they send an email pretending to be a company you trust and tell you to click a link and provide personal information. If you think an email looks sketchy, don’t click anything and do some research first to ensure it's legitimate.
A lot of protecting yourself from identity theft is common sense. Try to put yourself in an identity thief’s shoes, and consider situations in which you might try to steal personal information. Just taking the time to analyze various scenarios will give you the upper hand in keeping your information safe.
Keep an eye on your identity
In addition to taking steps to protect your identity, you should also be monitoring your accounts regularly to check for suspicious activity. Look at credit card and bank statements to see if there are any charges you don’t remember making.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires that the nationwide credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) provide you with a free copy of your credit report every year, if you request it. Take advantage of that and make sure everything on your credit report looks right.
For added peace of mind, there are identity theft protection companies that you can sign up with for a fee. They will monitor your identity and alert you if anything happens that raises red flags.
Even with increased vigilance and a focus on prevention, it’s still possible for your identity to be stolen right underneath your nose. If you believe that your identity was compromised, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s webpage dedicated to recovering from identity theft.
Just as preventative techniques don’t work 100% of the time when it comes to identity theft, service equipment contracts and warranties are not always enough. Even the most prepared homeowners face unforeseen costs when it comes to disasters, emergencies, and repairs. Upgrade your homeowners policy to include a variety of extras, including the cost to replace home equipment, for just pennies a day.
Do you have any tips for how to prevent identity theft? Are there any scams you’ve learned about recently that you think others should know about? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!