10 Tips to Stay Safe from Identity Theft

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Identity theft is on the rise and wreaking havoc on the lives of many Americans. While everyone is at risk and there’s no foolproof way to safeguard against it, learning how to protect yourself from this type of fraud can go a long way in lowering your risk of identity theft.

While no one is immune to identity theft, some are more at risk than others. Children, seniors, active-duty military, and social media users, who make it easy for cybercriminals to discover personal and sensitive information, are all more susceptible to fraud. However, The Ascent noted people ages 30 to 39 reported the most cases of stolen identity last year.

Understanding different types of identity theft is essential for protection against it. According to The Ascent, the most common is government benefits fraud, followed by credit card fraud. Other types include bank fraud, synthetic account fraud, and data breaches.


Tips for lowering your risk of identity theft

Identity theft is an all too common threat these days, but there are steps you can take to reduce the risk of falling victim to it. Consider these valuable tips from Nerd Wallet to protect yourself as much as possible.

  • Freeze – Your credit, that is. Put a hold on your credit with all three major bureaus – Equifax, Experian, Transunion – to restrict access to your records. New credit files are unable to be opened until you decide to unfreeze. Both freezing and unfreezing your credit are completely free. Additional guidance is available from the Federal Trade Commission.
  • Protect your SSN – Your Social Security number is a master key to all your personal data, so you’ll want to guard it with your life. Try not to give your number out. If you do, be sure to ask why it’s needed and how it will be protected. Never carry your Social Security card with you and be extra careful about storing paperwork with your number on it.
  • Use strong passwords – Set unique passwords for your accounts and never reuse them. A password manager can help you create and store passwords. Add an authentication step instead of relying on security questions that are too easy to figure out.
  • Set up alerts – Sign up for text or email alerts through your credit union. You’ll be informed every time a transaction goes through on your accounts. This gives you an opportunity to catch discrepancies right away. The sooner you can report fraudulent activity, the better.
  • Keep an eye on your mail – Stolen mail is one of the easiest ways to commit identity theft. Sign up for Informed Delivery through the U.S. Postal Service, which captures and sends you a daily preview of your mail so you know if anything is missing.
  • Shred, shred, shred – Shred documents with sensitive data frequently, including financial statements and those preapproved offers that normally go straight in the junk mail pile.
  • Go digital – When paying for something in-store or online, use an app containing digital versions of your credit and debit cards. The encrypted transactions are safer and transmit less germs, too.
  • Safeguard your phone  – Mobile devices pose a real risk for identity theft and far too many people (48%, according to Nerd Wallet) leave their phones unlocked and unprotected. Consider placing a password on your cell phone, as well as a personal identification number (PIN) on your cellular account. Also, remember to turn off Bluetooth if you’re not using it and be careful using public Wi-Fi, as others may be able to see your personal data.
  • Keep an eye on your credit – Check credit reports frequently to monitor all activity and report anything you find suspicious.
  • Stay alert – Even under the most watchful eye, identity theft can still happen. Stay vigilant with your personal data and report anything that feels off. Early detection is essential for correcting a problem.
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