How To Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
Identity theft occurs when your personal or financial information is stolen by someone else who uses it to commit identity fraud. Often these identity thieves will use your personal information to make unauthorized purchases. The damage of identity theft can extend to much more than just unauthorized purchases. Knowing how someone steals your identity, the types of identity theft, how to prevent it and how to report it is key to protecting yourself.
How Does Someone Steal Your Identity?
Identity thieves use a multitude of ways to steal someone’s identity. It can be as simple as digging through the trash for a credit card statement or as complicated as hacking a computer. In today’s day and age, identity thieves are leaning more and more towards using computers to steal personal information. To access your information thieves use a multitude of strategies. Some of them include:
- Hacking your computer or computer network.
- Accessing information from stolen or discarded computers.
- Phishing, which includes sending misleading emails or text messages asking you to perform an action like clicking a link that gives them access to your computer.
What are the Different Types of Identity Theft?
Identity thieves have many different schemes they will use to gain your personal information. Being aware of how these thieves can infiltrate your life is important to protect yourself against identity fraud. Here are the most common forms of identity theft:
Financial identity theft is when someone steals your identity with the intent to gain personal information for financial gain. They will seek information that gains them access to credit, goods, services, and benefits.
Social security identity theft is when someone uses your social security card number. In these situations, they will use your number to apply for credit cards or loans in your name.
Medical identity theft occurs when someone poses as someone else to receive medical care.
Synthetic identity theft is when a criminal creates a new identity using both stolen and fake information.
Child identity theft occurs when someone steals the identity of a child. This is a popular form of identity theft because children don’t have the information linked to them that might present the obstacles like an adult.
Tax identity theft occurs when a perpetrator tries to collect a tax refund in your name. They do this by stealing your social security number and filing a tax return in your name.
Criminal identity theft is when a criminal pretends to be someone else to avoid arrest.
How Can I Prevent Identity Theft?
Identity theft can be prevented by being vigilant. Frequently check your documents for accuracy and if there are any discrepancies get them corrected straight away. There are many services available to help minimize the impact if your identity were to get stolen. To explore services, Investopedia provides a review of six identify theft protection services and their pros and cons. These services work to prevent identity theft by safeguarding your personal information and keeping a watchful eye on your records to alert you of any changes or transactions that might appear fraudulent. Here are some simple tips to prevent identity theft:
- Keep your social security card and birth certificate in a safe place.
- Shred important documents like bills, expired credit cards, etc.
- Promptly retrieve your mail every day and if you going to be gone place a hold on your mail through the post office.
- Never give out your credit card number or social security number to anyone who you do not know who it is. This includes mail and phone solicitations!
- Use different usernames and passwords for each of your online accounts.
- Change your usernames and passwords at least every six months.
- Enable two-factor authentication for your online accounts.
How Do I Report Identity Theft?
If you have fallen victim to identity theft or believe you have, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has created IdentityTheft.gov to allow individuals an online option to report identity theft. You will be provided directions on the steps to reconcile your identity. The FTC will then get in touch with you to ask you some questions and then use that information to create a personalized recovery plan. From there they will help you with every recovery step and track your progress. You can also call the FTC at 1-877-438-4338 to report identity theft.
For some more simple tips on how to keep your private information private and prevent identity theft, check out our article on fraud protection.