10 steps to protect yourself against identity theft – Forbes Advisor

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For the average American, stories of identity theft are as familiar as conversations around a holiday table. A credit card mysteriously used in a foreign country. A compromised debit card and a drained checking account. Or maybe you’re a consumer who went to make a major purchase like a car or a house, only to find your credit report in an inexplicable state of disarray.

While fraudsters are finding new ways to steal identities every day, you don’t have to feel powerless to fight back. A good offense is the best defense to protect your identity.

Millions of Americans affected by identity theft each year

According to a 2021 survey by Debt.com, four out of 10 people said they had been victims of identity theft. While that may leave room for many to say, “Oh, that’s not going to happen to me,” new numbers on the rise in identity theft cases are alarming.

According to a February 2021 report from the Federal Trade Commission, Americans said they lost $3.3 billion to fraud in 2020 – a significant jump from the $1.8 billion reported in 2019. The number Americans reporting they lost money to fraud is also on the rise, with 34% of fraud reports in 2020 citing lost money, up from 23% in 2019.

In 2021, the increase in identity theft cases came from an unlikely source: government benefits. Naftali Harris, co-founder and CEO of SentiLink, a company that specializes in fraud schemes, tactics and identity verification, said: “A lot of this is down to fraudsters taking advantage of unemployment insurance schemes. weakly secured. [and fraudsters] steal citizens’ identities and claim benefits on their behalf,” he says.

FTC data shows that consumers reported 40 times more benefits fraud to the FTC in the first quarter of 2021 than in the first quarter of 2020, likely due to increased unemployment claims due to pandemic shutdowns and tensions in the labor market.

Who is most vulnerable to identity theft?

Just having a social security number puts you at risk of identity fraud, but specific populations are more vulnerable to identity breaches.

  • Children: Thieves are especially fond of children because they can use their social security numbers to create clean credit profiles for someone with a bad credit history or looking to open fraudulent accounts. Family members are often the offenders since they may have access to a child’s social security number.
  • Seniors: Since they are often less tech-savvy than younger people, seniors are more likely to fall prey to internet phishing and phone scams.
  • Social media users: Those who are prolific on social media have large amounts of online credentials, making them easy targets for resourceful fraudsters. For example, many people delighted to be vaccinated against Covid-19 have posted photos of their vaccination cards online, which contain a lot of personally identifiable informationincluding your full name and date of birth.
  • Military: When active duty service members are deployed, they are less likely to notice anything out of the ordinary with their credit reports, and frequent moves mean their personal information is shared more frequently.

10 steps to help protect your identity

Although there is no guarantee that your identity will not be stolen, the steps below can help you take immediate action to further secure your personal and financial information.

  1. Check your credit reports. It’s easy to get a free weekly copy of your credit report from the three credit bureaus. Checking your credit can help you keep tabs on fraudulent activity like new credit cards or loans and applications you don’t recognize.
  2. Freeze your credit reports. Freezing your credit reports makes it impossible to open new accounts in your name unless you remove the freeze. The temporary lifting or complete removal of a freeze can be done online with each of the credit bureaus using a password or PIN assigned during the initial freeze.
  3. Use a password manager. Storing all these passwords in your browser can make them vulnerable to malware and other hacks. Password managers provide an encrypted way to store your private login information so that it’s both easily accessible (for you) and difficult for anyone else to access. The most popular password managers are paid services available by subscription.
  4. Put password or biometric protection on your devices. In 2018, Kaspersky Labs found that 52% of people did not password protect their phone. Enabling password or biometric identification (like fingerprint or facial recognition) can prevent a thief from accessing personal information on your phone.
  5. Avoid using public Wi-Fi. Free public Wi-Fi may seem like a score, but open networks make it easy for scammers to connect to your devices. Avoid accessing your financial accounts through unsecured public Wi-Fi connections.
  6. Shred your documents. Bank statements, anything with your social security number, old credit cards, these are all delicious finds in your trash can for identity thieves. You can purchase a cross-cut or micro-cut (the safest) shredder or stay tuned for community shredding events.
  7. Invest in security software. Antivirus and malware software can help you detect attempts to access your personal information by clever online scammers and, in many cases, neutralize these threats. Annual fees can vary from $35 to $100.
  8. Be a little less social. If you are on social networks, activate the strictest security measures available on your accounts. For example, these Facebook tips can help you quickly assess and protect your account. Also, be careful about what information you make public, such as your full name, city of residence, employer, and date of birth.
  9. Sign up for free credit monitoring. Companies like Capital One and Discover offer free credit monitoring to their cardholders. You can also use free monitoring tools available from many credit bureaus or from Credit Karma, which provides free credit monitoring of your Equifax and TransUnion credit reports.
  10. Check for data leaks online. There’s an easy way to find out if your data has been compromised or found on the dark web: ask the internet. Sites like F-Secure and have I been tricked? are free and easy – just enter your email address. If you find an account that has been compromised, you can easily reset your password and see if the website offers two-factor authentication to better secure your account.

Do I have to pay for Identity Protection?

If you plan to pay for identity protection, many companies are willing to offer a subscription. The best identity theft protection services come with added benefits, like help with resolving identity theft cases and up to $1 million in insurance if your identity is compromised.

However, it’s hard to justify the cost with all the free tools available from reputable companies like Experian, Credit Karma, and various credit card issuers. If you want the convenience of a paid subscription and the extra bells and whistles, you might find a paid identity monitoring service.

The essentials of protecting your identity

As Patrick Simasko, elder law attorney and financial advisor at Simasko Law can tell you, having your identity stolen is a nightmare. But a little vigilance can help you manage the fallout.

“If your identity is stolen, I hope you find out sooner rather than later,” he says. “The longer the stolen identity goes undetected, the harder it is to fix the problem.”

Being proactive and taking preventative steps to keep your information secure today can help you avoid the hassle of trying to recover from identity theft later. Simasko says consumers often have little recourse due to the widespread nature of the fraud.

“Trying to find and prosecute these scammers is nearly impossible because the criminal may be living in an entirely different state or country,” he says. So do what you can to protect your information today. This will save you the headaches of tomorrow that scammers are very happy to cause.

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