How to Prevent Identity Theft and Protect Yourself

Identity theft is a serious crime that leaves victims to deal with credit issues, lawsuits, financial disaster, and in some cases, even problems with the police. Most of the time, the consequences of identity theft can be reversed but victims often end up having to spend a lot of time and money into restoring their good name and credit.

The best thing you can do is be vigilant and protect yourself from identity theft by preventing it from happening in the first place.

Although anyone can become a victim of identity theft and it is impossible to guarantee that it will never happen to you, there are steps you can take to protect your identity and minimize the risk.

What Is Identity Theft?

Criminals commit identity theft by stealing someone’s sensitive information such as their full name and date of birth, social security number, contact and financial information, and more.

They then proceed to use the stolen identity for several possible fraudulent purposes without the victim’s consent, such as:

  • Applying for credit and loans
  • Filing taxes
  • Opening bank accounts and obtaining credit cards
  • Setting up telephone services
  • Making payments online
  • Giving the victim’s name when stopped by the police
  • Creating fake social media accounts
  • Getting medical services or sending fake bills to the victim’s health insurer

As you can see, there are several forms of identity theft and some people are considered more at-risk than others. This is the case, for example, of seniors who need to share their sensitive information with others like medical personnel and caregivers.

How to Reduce the Risk of Identity Theft

There are simple ways in which you can protect your identity and privacy and prevent identity theft. Find some safety tips against identity theft below.

Keep your documents safe

Make sure that your important documents such as your birth certificate are stored safely. Since you need to keep hard copies of certain items, consider storing your vital records and other important documents in a home safe or a safe deposit box.

Make electronic copies of your financial records and always tear up or shred paper and old documents that include sensitive information before throwing it away. Never throw away bank receipts in public places.

Collect your mail promptly and never leave it in an unsecured place. Pick up checks in-person instead of having them mailed to you.

Be vigilant on the phone

Always be careful when giving sensitive information over the phone. Normally, entities like banks and the IRS do not call and ask you for your financial details. Always call them back at a verified number or visit them in-person if this happens.

Do not carry your documents with you

As you go about your day, only carry essential IDs and debit or credit cards. Leave lesser-used cards and identification at home. Do not carry your social security number or vital records with you unless necessary.

Keep your identity safe online

The internet has opened a world of new opportunities for scammers. Here is how to prevent identity theft online:

  • Use a firewall and secure browser
  • Do not open files and links sent by strangers
  • Maintain current virus protection
  • Use different hard-to-guess passwords for different services and change them often
  • Avoid automatic log-in processes
  • When you dispose of your computer, wipe sensitive information and completely overwrite the hard drive

Prevent identity theft while traveling

Travelers are often targeted by identity thieves. Make sure to leave unnecessary items like your social security card at home before you leave.

Only carry computers and other devices if necessary and protect them with secure passwords. Avoid busy public wi-fi spots if possible. Delete your online history if using a public computer.

Monitor your credit

Many victims realize that their identity has been stolen a long time after the theft. Check your credit reports at least once a year to see if you spot anything that is out of line. If you notice suspicious activity, take action immediately.

What to Do If Your Identity Has Been Stolen

If you think that your privacy has been compromised, there are things you can do straight away:

  • Freeze your credit
  • File disputes about any mistakes you find in your reports
  • Report the identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) online or by calling them
  • File a police report
  • Report your stolen birth certificate and other documents
  • Inform debt collectors that you are a victim of identity theft and provide them with the documents to prove it
  • Consider hiring a lawyer who specializes in identity theft