Protecting yourself from identity theft starts from understanding what it is. It means coming up with forward-thinking plans that help wall off identity thieves from your data. It is too unfortunate that many Americans don’t put measures that effectively guard their data against identity theft.
81% of US adults rely on their credit card companies and bank to protect them from identity theft. Not working with a paid credit monitoring product puts your financial data open to hackers.
What is identity theft?
The first step in protecting yourself from identity theft frauds is knowing what it is and its potential. Identity theft, also known as identity fraud is a crime where a person illegally obtains your personal and financial data either by deception or fraud for financial gain.
Once your identity data lands on the wrong hands, an identity thief can use it to:
- Withdraw funds from your account
- Apply for credit cards or loans under your name
- Use your health insurance to get free medical care
- Use your social security number to loot your tax refunds
- Sell your information to other criminals in dark web
Identity theft has become so prevalent to an extent the US government has made it a federal crime that is punishable by imprisonment for up to two years. The most common types of identity theft in the US are:
- Credit card fraud
- Band fraud
- Tax-related and employment fraud
- Phone or utility fraud
How to identify identity theft
Knowing some of the warning signs of identity theft will help you know when something fishy is happening or developing. Here is how you can recognize the signs of identity theft:
1. You’re not receiving your household bills via mail. It might be a sign that someone has changed your billing address.
2. You can’t get a loan despite having good credit. It might mean someone previously borrowed applied for a loan under your name. Also, if your loan application has been approved but with a higher interest rate might be a sign that you’re a victim of identity theft.
3. Receiving bills for unknown purchases.
4. Fraudulent transactions in your financial account. If your credit card, bank, or any other financial account has an unauthorized transaction, it means someone has breached your account.
5. Rejected tax returns. If you’re getting a rejection notice after filing your tax returns, it means that someone has fraudulently filed under your name.
6. Changes on your credit card statement. Identity thieves test their victim’s accounts whether they are active by making an inexpensive purchase. Once the first transaction is approved, they start making larger transactions.
Steps to Protect Yourself From Identity Theft
The goal of protecting yourself from identity theft is putting as many tripwires and obstacles as you can to prevent hackers from accessing your personal information. These obstacles frustrate and discourage attackers, making them focus on other victims whose data is easy to obtain. Start with the following steps to keep your information safe from identity theft:
1. Use passwords in all your digital devices
Password protecting all your smartphones, computers, and financial accounts is the first step. Don’t be among the many Americans who say it is an unworthy hassle. Failure to password protect your device is similar to leaving your door open to strangers.
2. Mix your passwords
Using the same password in all your digital devices and financial accounts is not good. It makes the work of identity thieves easier. Using different passwords helps protect the other accounts when an attacker successfully gets login information of one account.
3. Stay away from shady links and websites
You should never click on the suspicious links you get via email or messages. Most identity thieves use websites and emails that look similar to their victim’s bank, mortgage lender, credit card company, and other financial institutions. Never click on a link that you suspect is illegitimate. You should also never type your usernames and passwords on unfamiliar login pages.
4. Don’t give out your personal information to everyone
There is no legitimate organization that asks for personal information such as Social Security number and credit card PIN on a phone call.
5. Protect all documents with personal information
Destroy all physical private statements and records containing your personal or financial data. Delete all emails that include your financial data from your mailbox. Also, make sure to empty trash because identity thieves will look everywhere to get those emails.
Don’t take the security of your personal and financial for granted. Identity thieves are real and ever ready to strike. Remember, it is upon you to protect your data and identity theft from occurring.