Compromised personal details can ruin your life. One morning, you can find your bank accounts empty or having no access to them. You can even have a surprise lien on your house or the police pounding on your door accusing you of a crime. So, how to stop identity fraud?
Several simple hacks can help you foil thieves though nothing can guarantee your safety against a hacker with a marked target. Even worse, many people fail to protect their identity and criminals go for the easy marks. These tips will help you boost your privacy and keep a low profile.
Table of Contents
- 1 Identity Theft – What Is It?
- 2 Steps To Prevent Identity Theft
- 2.1 Safeguard Your SSN And Other Personal Documents
- 2.2 Freeze Your Credit Immediately
- 2.3 Don’t Leave Your Mail Unattended
- 2.4 Regularly Check Credit Card And Bank Statements
- 2.5 Shred Your Documents
- 2.6 Review Your Credit Report Annually
- 2.7 Use Two-Factor Authentication
- 2.8 Don’t Use The Same Password
- 2.9 Install Computer And Internet Security
- 2.10 Opt-Out Of Prescreened Credit Card Offers
- 2.11 Completely Wipe Out Devices Before Donating Or Trashing
- 2.12 Check ATMs Before Using Them
- 3 Warning Signs Identity Thief Accessed Your Personal Information
- 3.0.1 Bank Statement Looks Wrong Or Checks Bounce
- 3.0.2 Unfamiliar and Unauthorized Activity On Credit Card Or Reports
- 3.0.3 Missing Or Unfamiliar Bills
- 3.0.4 Cell Phones Or Utilities Lose Service
- 3.0.5 Calls From Debt Collectors
- 3.0.6 Medical Bills Don’t Add Up
- 3.0.7 Prohibition To File Taxes
- 3.0.8 Arrest Warrant
- 4 If You Become An Identity Theft Victim
- 5 Best Identity Theft Protection Services
- 6 Bottom Line
- 7 FAQ
Identity Theft – What Is It?
Identity theft is a generic name for situations when someone uses your sensitive data to pose as you or steal from you. The main targets of identity scammers are bank and investment accounts. Plus, they can open new credit lines, get utility services on your behalf, or give police your name and address when arrested. They can also compromise your tax filing and exploit your insurance to get medical treatments.
Most cons use your identity details to buy things with your credit cards or get new ones in your name. The consequences can be detrimental depending on the type of theft and how the criminal uses your information. You can face immediate financial loss, damage to your credit score, and emotional distress.
Some of the most common ways ID thieves get hold of your data include unsafe browsing and malware activity. Criminals also use strategies like phishing, spam attacks, and Wi-Fi hacking to steal sensitive information. You should also be alert of card skimming and cellphone thefts since these are other ways to have your ID data compromised.
Remember that your information may already get exposed due to frequent data breaches. Later on, it can take several weeks or even months to resolve the issue. As a result, it’s wise to take steps to prevent malicious intruders from using your personal data and ruining your financial life.
Steps To Prevent Identity Theft
Chances to find a fail-safe strategy on how to stop identity fraud are almost non-existent. Plus, monitoring services let you know of the problem after something has gone wrong. Luckily, there are things to consider to make it more challenging for thieves to endanger your identity.
Safeguard Your SSN And Other Personal Documents
Whenever you need to provide your Social Security number, ask if it is necessary and how the agent will protect it upon receipt. Your SSN is usually not essential to receive services at the doctor’s or run errands at your child’s school.
It can be a convenient way for institutions and providers to keep track of your records, but at what risk? So the less you share your SSN, the less it will get exposed to a data breach or fall into the wrong hands.
The first step to protect documents is secure handling. Meaning, always keep credit card numbers, retirement, bank and brokerage accounts, birth certificates, etc., in a safe place. In the process, bear the following in mind.
- Always limit with whom you share confidential information.
- Minimize the documents you carry with you.
- Remove old confidential information you don’t need from your purse.
- Safeguard passwords and PINs.
- Cancel credit cards you don’t need.
- Limit the information on checks to your name and address.
- Buy a locking mailbox.
- Give personal information or credit card numbers via phone or email, no matter how legitimate or enticing offers they have.
- Write your PIN on your ATM card.
- Carry more than two credit cards at once.
- Keep account information or passwords on your cell phone or personal digital assistant.
- Provide your telephone number or address on credit card transaction slips.
- Write your SSN and telephone number on checks.
Freeze Your Credit Immediately
Another savvy step you can take to prevent identity theft is to freeze your credit file with the three major credit bureaus. In short, you must call TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian and instruct them to block all credit-wise actions.
Freezing and unfreezing credit is free and usually takes about 15-20 minutes. Once you block your credit file, taking loans in your name will be challenging even if your SSN gets stolen. So if you’re suspicious that your information got compromised, act fast and request an urgent credit freeze.
Also, consider freezing your credit report if you don’t intend to open new bank accounts or apply for a mortgage anytime soon. All credit bureaus provide online, mail-in, and telephone options to do so. Later on, they provide you with a PIN or passcode to use if you wish to unfreeze your credit. Note that such actions won’t impact your credit score. Plus, you can allow any designated institution temporary access.
Don’t Leave Your Mail Unattended
If your mail gets intercepted, your identity is under a severe threat. Consider preventing identity theft by installing a locking mailbox. If you can’t procure it, you can always use a Post Office box or a box at a private mail receiving agency.
If your mail receptacle already has a locking device, ensure it’s operable. If it doesn’t work, install a new lock or place a secure mailbox with a sturdy lock.
Another measure to protect yourself against mail fraud is to retrieve letters right after delivery. Avoid leaving documents in your mailbox overnight or during weekends.
Moreover, use letter slots or collection boxes at the Post Office instead of leaving them in your residential box for carrier pickup. You should be particularly cautious with outgoing mail containing payment checks. Outgoing and incoming mail is attractive to cons because it has SSNs, bank account numbers, names, and addresses.
Call the local police when you notice any suspicious activity around your mail receptacle or letter carrier. You can also inform the Postal Inspection Service as postal Inspectors are in charge of mail theft complaints.
Safeguarding your social security number is one of the basics of preventing identity theft. You should also check your credit reports for any unapproved activity.
Regularly Check Credit Card And Bank Statements
One of the best tips to prevent identity theft is to review your credit card and bank statements once a month. This way, you can spot if someone with your credit card number or bank account information is trying to make small charges. This strategy helps them see if they can get away with it. Unfortunately, small transactions can slip through the cracks without you or the bank noticing them.
Get familiar with your statement cycles and follow up with financial institutions if you don’t receive timely statements. Based on FTC Consumer Sentinel Network statistics, credit card fraud is the most common type of identity theft.
Shred Your Documents
The shredder is the cheapest and least complicated method to stop identity thefts. By shredding paper, you don’t allow anyone to obtain personal details from the trash bin. Keep an eye on correspondence that contains confidential information, such as SSNs. Be particularly wary of bank statements, preapproved credit card offers, convenience and canceled checks, and deposit slips.
The best shredders to use are those that confetti cut the documents as pieces are impossible to reassemble. Unlike items cut into strips, thieves won’t bother to steal documents ripped into hundreds of tiny pieces. So when mail arrives, shred unwanted and junk items and other documents and get into the habit of doing this at least once a day.
Review Your Credit Report Annually
Another path to preventing identity theft is to review your consumer credit report regularly. This way, you keep the potential damage resulting from the illegal use of personal details at a minimum level.
Customers can get a free credit report once a year under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. To self-monitor your credit, request a report from each of the three major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. We suggest pulling your credit once in January, the second time in May, and the third time in October.
Don’t forget to review the credit reports of your minor children, as thieves can compromise their ID data, too. The official place available to request free credit reports is annualcreditreport.com.
Use Two-Factor Authentication
Data breach investigation reports claim that over 80% of hacking-related breaches start with a compromised or stolen password. Hence, use two-factor authentication (2FA) to add an extra layer of password security.
2FA stems from your knowledge of a password, having a smartphone, or a biometric characteristic like your fingerprint. It requires more than one of the above identifiers to unlock an account. So, if your password gets stolen, a criminal won’t get into your account without your smartphone or fingerprint.
An example of 2FA is when you use a password and receive a text containing a code you type in to access the account. We urge you to set up 2FA for email, bank accounts, social media accounts, and credit cards.
Don’t Use The Same Password
Using weak or repeated passwords to keep your essential accounts protected won’t suffice. Due to sim swapping, even two-factor authentication isn’t a 100% reliable method of keeping your information secure.
Use passwords that consist of a random combination of letters, symbols, punctuation, and numbers. Avoid words, names, or phrases that relate to you. The more intricate the password, the better safety you have. As for length, make it at least eight characters; over 14 characters is best.
When you can, update the passwords of your most significant accounts. Also, get used to a password manager to store and remember all your passcodes. Though you may worry about using such apps, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks on this one.
Install Computer And Internet Security
The internet is your entrance to the world from the comfort of your home or office. As a result, identity theft and fraud have mushroomed. Cons are constantly trying to load spyware, malware, and botnets on victim computers. These programs transfer your keystrokes and computer files to scammers. Hence, it might be a wise step to use free cloud storage options.
In addition, ensure your PC has adequate firewall protection and current operating system software. Don’t forget to check if you have updated antivirus and antispyware software, too. Data privacy experts also suggest encrypting your home wireless computer network.
Legit requests for personal information don’t come through email. So don’t respond to emails requiring an update of personal and banking information. It’s best to contact your bank or other financial institution to verify the request. If you reckon the agent is truthful, provide your details via phone or in-person only.
Last, don’t open unknown attachments or download questionable software. Also, don’t download files from unreliable sites. The same is valid for pop-ups. Criminals may offer free music, antivirus protection, or other apps that install spyware on your computer.
Opt-Out Of Prescreened Credit Card Offers
Credit card companies tend to send pre-screened offers for new accounts, which can get intercepted by criminals. Then, they use these offers to open accounts in your name and use your funds. It’s best to shred mailed bids rather than throwing them in the trash.
Even better, opt-out of receiving prescreened credit card offers for five years or permanently to avoid identity theft exposure. You can do so through optoutprescreen.com, which is the official consumer credit reporting industry website.
Completely Wipe Out Devices Before Donating Or Trashing
When disposing of an old computer or another e-device, remove the hard drive. Even better, you should physically destroy it after you back up the essential documents and files. For instance, you may drill holes through it or smash it with a hammer.
The same goes for cell phones, flash drives, and other portable digital devices you are discarding. Wiping clean the hard drive is not enough since deleting does not entirely erase the file. Although it is not visible in the directory, the data is still on the drive. Identity thieves can recover information even on wiped drives, and that’s why they purchase used computers.
Check ATMs Before Using Them
Many identity thieves rely on skimming devices over ATM slots to get your card account information. Hence, take extra care to protect your PIN and other information at public cash withdrawal spots.
First, check if there are any suspicious devices on the front of the ATM. Exposed wires or loose connections may indicate somebody is watching you. Look for hidden cameras on the ATM sides that help criminals record ATM passwords. Moreover, avoid the ATM if the card slot, keypad, or another part doesn’t look right or if you can move them.
Be aware of people prying into your ATM transaction. They might be attempting to look over your shoulder and remember your PIN and account balance. Also, steer away from ATMs with an unfamiliar brand name and suspicious-looking card readers.
Finally, take all your receipts from the ATM. These slips contain the last four digits of your account and expose your balance. Bear the same warning in mind at stores or gas stations. Why leave any information behind for others to see? Take all your receipts with you and shred them when no longer needed.
Warning Signs Identity Thief Accessed Your Personal Information
Besides listing tips to prevent identity theft, we’ll also share clues on detecting possible data breaches. If you notice something suspicious or any of the signs below, take them seriously and act fast.
Bank Statement Looks Wrong Or Checks Bounce
Slight discrepancies on your bank summary could be a red flag that you’re a victim of financial identity theft. Hence, it’s vital to check your accounts online. If you come across strange withdrawals or suspicious charges, contact your bank right away.
Bank accounts subject to unauthorized access should get closed. Once you get a new account number, update any automatic payments with the latest information. It’s also worthwhile to cooperate with your bank to resolve fraudulent transactions.
Another indication that you are a victim of financial ID theft is suspicious activity on your credit card. If your credit card number got lost or stolen and you notice fraudulent purchases, contact the merchant to alert them. Then, call your card issuer and instruct them to close the account and issue you a new card.
You’ll also need to contact one of the three major credit bureaus to place a fraud alert. As a result, you’ll make it more difficult for cons to open accounts in your name.
Missing Or Unfamiliar Bills
Criminals can steal your mail by changing your mailing addresses. You may realize that when an unpaid account appears on your credit report or a bill collector contacts you. So, if your bills start missing, consider this a warning sign of identity theft. Fraudsters can gather all your information and open new accounts in your name.
In addition to getting credit cards in your name, identity thieves may use your personal information to purchase goods. They can also open new wireless accounts or upgrade services on current accounts for their use. It’s essential to keep track of all bills and bank correspondence to remedy fraudulent charges.
Cell Phones Or Utilities Lose Service
If you lose your cellphone or another service, promptly review your account for unfamiliar activity. For instance, a con can upgrade a phone on your current account. Then, your device could lose the signal when your service transfers to the new device. Besides that, you may be liable to pay for the add-ons. At this point, it’s crucial to reach out directly to your wireless provider.
Calls From Debt Collectors
Criminals might use your name and personal information to accrue debt. Meaning, if you receive unusual calls from creditors asking about unpaid bills that aren’t yours, act fast.
Check your credit report for fishy accounts or charges to catch this warning sign. You must contact the three major credit reporting agencies and dispute the fraudulent activity if you are a victim. You must also call the service provider where the fraudulent account opened and close it.
Medical Bills Don’t Add Up
Take it as a sign of identity theft when you get a medical bill for a treatment or service you never received. Also, be wary of rejected medical claims because you have already reached your benefits limit.
Identity thieves could share your information at a doctor’s office and negatively impact your medical benefits eligibility. Moreover, someone else’s medical history can end up in your health records. These switches can be harmful to your health and future treatments. Call your doctor’s office and the health insurance company if you suspect you’re a victim.
Prohibition To File Taxes
ID thieves can intercept your information in communications with the government and damage your finances. A tax refund fraud is one such example. If you wonder how criminals operate, keep in mind that they file taxes using your SSN and birth date to cash in on your tax refund. Then, they channel the funds into their account, and you can’t file your taxes.
Inform the Internal Revenue Service immediately to prevent identity theft from spreading. You should also alert the local police office and the Federal Trade Commission. Overall, it’s best to file your taxes early before scammers attempt to steal from you to avoid tax inconveniences.
Criminals having your Social Security number at hand can use your details to get away with a crime they did. Meaning, if someone shares your ID information when taken in, you can get arrested without knowing the charges against you.
This fraudulent activity goes under the name criminal identity theft. Those who are victims of it must act quickly. You may need to prove to the police through fingerprints or otherwise that you are not the criminal.
There’s no need to freak out even if you become an identity theft victim. There are steps you must do to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.
If You Become An Identity Theft Victim
The time to take action if you detect signs of identity theft is always sooner rather than later. Below are five pragmatic things you can do if you believe you may have been a victim of identity fraud.
How To File A Police Report
File a report for identity theft if you know the criminal or the thief used your information during a police interaction. Financial institutions may also ask you to file a police report if you claim identity theft. The report will help you remove the fraudulent activity from your account or recover lost funds.
So, how to stop identity fraud? Here’s what you should do to report ID crimes to the police:
- Get a copy of your FTC Identity Theft Report. Submit it online to the FTC to set up a recovery plan.
- Provide a photo ID. Provide the police with any proof of identity.
- Share your address. You can submit a mortgage payment stub or utility statement.
- Provide identity theft evidence. Gather proof that shows you were a victim of ID theft. Documents may include IRS and collection agency notices, credit card statements, or communications with creditors.
Place Fraud Alert With The Major Credit Bureaus
Call one of the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) and ask for a fraud alert on your account. The bureau you inform should then share the information with the other two agencies. The good news is that requesting a fraud alert is free.
The purpose of this fraud alert is to notify institutions pulling your credit report that your identity may be compromised. Moreover, creditors will look more closely at the person applying to ensure it’s you. Such alerts will stay on your report for a year.
Contact Your Credit Card Companies
Consider contacting your bank or lender as soon as possible after you become aware of ID fraud. Most credit cards entail zero-liability policies for victims of identity theft. Still, you have protection under the Fair Credit Billing Act in the case of credit card fraud. The liability for unauthorized charges caps at only $50.
Reach Out To The FTC (Federal Trade Commission)
The FTC is in charge of identity theft cases. It doesn’t pursue criminal charges but uses information by law enforcement agencies to track down perpetrators. To this end, you can file a report with them online through their webpage.
The next step would be to receive a recovery plan and pre-filled forms to file police reports and dispute fraudulent charges. Remember that identity theft means impersonating somebody else or using their data for financial gain. FTC is not responsible for stolen credit cards or security breaches.
Review Your Credit Reports And History
It’s vital to check your credit reports once in a while. ID theft fraud isn’t a one-time event and can happen again in the future if your data circulates on the dark web. While many websites promise free credit reports, the official site to turn to is AnnualCreditReport.com.
Best Identity Theft Protection Services
Using identity theft prevention software can deter ID thefts or restore your identity if you become a victim. Find the top-notch identity theft protection services for 2021 listed below:
- Identity Guard
- ID Watchdog
Identity theft protection services can’t prevent all ID fraud attempts. But they can limit the damage scammers cause by tracking your information online. Such a service can also scan your financial accounts and send you periodic credit reports.
An ID theft protection service will notify you about the fraudulent activity before criminals can do further harm by monitoring your data. Then, you can contact your financial institutions and inform them of the criminal act. Some of the listed protection packages above can also help you recover your identity.
Having an enhanced awareness of possible identity theft is likely the best way to prevent your personal information. Indeed, an ounce of identity theft prevention can be worth a pound of cure, so deter it before it even happens. Follow the advice above and take the essential steps to make your data theft-proof as best as you can.
Have you ever been a victim of ID fraud? What action did you take to resolve the issue, and how did you deal with the consequences? Share your experience with our loyal readers and sign up for our newsletter.
What Can You Do To Prevent Identity Theft?
First, protect your passwords by using different combinations for your credit card, bank and telephone accounts. Second, be credit card smart and permanently secure your mail. It’s also vital to ensure computer and Internet security. Last, review your records regularly and check your credit rating.
How Do I Protect My Bank Account From Identity Theft?
Use unique codes and leverage two-factor authentication for each account since a strong password is crucial. Moreover, refrain from using public Wi-Fi and update your software regularly. It’s also wise to install ad blockers and utilize features and tools provided by your bank when purchasing online.
What Are You Liable For If Your Identity Is Stolen?
To avoid being liable for something you didn’t do, report identity theft to the FTC within two business days. You can only be liable to pay $50 for unauthorized use of your bank accounts. The longer you wait after discovering the crime, the more financial liability falls on your shoulders.
How Do You Prove Identity Theft?
Gather any proof you can find related to the ID theft. Then, complete IRS Form 14039 and mail or fax it following the provided instructions. Endure you include evidence of your identity, like a copy of your passport, Social Security card, or driver’s license.