Identity theft is on the rise, with 1.4 million cases reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) every year. But while identity theft is getting more and more common, you’re not guaranteed to become a victim.
You can and should take steps to protect yourself from identity theft. With the right protections in place, you can avoid having your identity stolen. If you’re victimized anyway, you’ll know right away and you’ll be able to act swiftly to stop the thief and fix the damage.
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Protect Your Personal Information
Identity thieves can use personal information to hack into your accounts or even take out loans or seek medical care in your name. Protect personal information like your birthday, and don’t do any of those Facebook quizzes about what street you grew up on and what your first pet’s name was.
Most of all, safeguard your Social Security number. That number is the key that unlocks your entire identity, and a thief that has it can open credit cards, take out loans, and more. Memorize your Social Security number, don’t give it out to anyone who doesn’t actually need it, don’t give it out to anyone who calls and tries to get it out of you, and don’t carry the card around with you.
Learn to Identify Phishing Attacks
Phishing is when a scammer tries to trick you into sharing personal information via email, text, or even over the phone. A common phishing email will claim to be from your bank or an online retailer that you do business with. It will declare that there’s a problem with your account and that you need to click on the link and enter your login credentials to fix it.
This is a trick to steal your banking or shopping credentials. Once they’re in your account, they can steal your money or credit card numbers. You need to be vigilant against these kinds of scams, as they often prey on your emotional reaction to deceive you.
Use Strong Passwords and Multi-Factor Authentication
The combination of strong passwords and multi-factor authentication (MFA) can keep hackers out of your email, bank accounts, social media, and so on. A strong password should contain at least 14 characters, including numbers, letters, and special characters. You should consider stringing together multiple words or creating a passphrase rather than a password. Strong passwords are harder for cyber criminals to crack.
MFA adds a secondary layer of protection to your accounts. It involves a second type of identity verification, such as entering a code into an authenticator app, using your phone number or email address. With MFA, even if a hacker gets your password, they still may not be able to get into your account.
Change Your Passwords Often
You should change your passwords every 90 days, or more often if you have reason to believe they have been compromised – for example, if your information is involved in a data breach or you notice unusual activity on your account.
Monitor Your Credit
New accounts in your name will affect your credit score and will appear on your credit report, so monitoring your credit is a good idea. You can get a free yearly copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus – Experian, Transunion, and Equifax – and you can spread those out so you’re getting one every four months throughout the year.
You may also be able to get access to digital credit monitoring if you have a bank account or credit card. Often, credit card companies and banks provide credit score monitoring, notifications when new accounts are opened in your name, and even visibility into what collection items or accounts are appearing on your credit report.
Use an Identity Protection Service
You can use an identity theft protection service to monitor the dark web, the regular web, social media, and so on for signs that your identity has been compromised. Using an identity theft protection service means you’ll be notified right away if your information is compromised by dark web hackers or if suspicious activity has appeared on your credit report.
That way, you’ll be able to stop the thieves before they do too much damage to your financial life. You’ll also get some live help and some amount of insurance to help you recoup the costs of recovery. That can be important when you’re in the middle of having your identity stolen and don’t know what your first move should be.
Identity theft doesn’t have to ruin your life. You can protect your finances, and yourself, so that when identity thieves do try to come for you, you’re ready for them.