Protecting yourself from identity theft and other types of dangerous and costly identity compromises can sometimes seem impossible. After all, there is so much information that you are receiving and sharing online that you can easily lose track.
The truth is that one of the key aspects of protecting against identity compromises is based on creating a solid understanding of what identity theft actually is. From there, you will be able to ultimately come up with a forward-thinking plan that allows you to aim to defend against would-be identity thieves who are looking to gain access to your personal data and use it for a number of different criminal reasons.
On top of that, you probably don’t know how you can best defend yourself and your loved ones from criminal identity compromises. Fake identities are not fake news. That is why we are taking it upon ourselves to break down everything that you need to learn about today.
What is identity theft
Just before we go into how you can best protect yourself from identity theft, you will want to learn about what it really is.
In all, identity theft, which is also commonly referred to as identity fraud by professionals and law enforcement officials, is defined as any and all crimes against an individual or individuals where personal and financial data is illegally obtained by fraud or deception. Typically, these are used for financial gain.
Once this personal identity information is obtained by a criminal, they are able to do things such as:
- Withdrawing funds from your personal checking or savings accounts
- Applying for credit cards of loans in your name
- Using a social security number to steal your tax refund
- Using health insurance to obtain medical care
- Selling your personal information to other criminals, typically through the Dark Web
One of the most important things to realize is just how common these types of crimes have become in recent years. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their identity stolen each year! It is a sizable chunk of America’s adult population.
When it comes to which are the most common, here is a list of the common to least common in descending order:
- Credit card fraud
- Employment or tax-related fraud
- Phone or utility fraud
- Bank fraud
- Loan or lease fraud
- Government documents or benefits fraud
Major ways to recognize possible signs of identity theft
One of the best defenses that you have against any and all kinds of identity theft or compromise is to know the tell-tale warning signs that signal that fraud is developing or already taking place.
Here are the six most common signs that you will absolutely want to keep an eye on!
You are not receiving household bills by mail
One of the first signs that you may be falling victim to identity compromise is that bills stop arriving at your home in the mail. This could be a sign that your personal data has been compromised and an identity thief has changed your billing address.
You are rejected for a credit card or loan
If you are rejected for a credit card or loan but have a strong history of great credit health, you might have been targeted by an identity thief. You will also want to keep interest rates that you are offered if you are accepted. If they are higher than you would expect given your credit score, it could also be a sign that you have become a victim of an identity thief.
You are being billed for purchases you have not made
This is one of the most common and most obvious ways to figure out if you are being victimized by an identity thief. Invoices or receipts for purchases that you do not recognize, or if you are being billed for overdue payments for credit accounts that you do not own, then you should absolutely investigate further to figure out where these purchases are coming from because chances are quite good they are being completed through identity fraud.
Your accounts have transactions that you did not make
Another sign that you are being victimized by identity fraud is if your bank, credit card or other financial accounts show transactions that you did not complete and/or authorize. If this happens, it is quite possible that your accounts may have been breached.
Your tax return is not accepted
If you file your tax returns and receive a rejection notice from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), it could indicate that someone has stolen your return fraudulently in your name.
Test charges are appearing on your credit card statement
It is a common practice for experienced identity thieves to basically test out a stolen card to figure out if it is still active by making low-cost purchases on it that are under $5.00. If the credit card is approved, the fraud theft knows that they will be able to use the same card for larger transactions.
How to protect yourself
Knowing the signs of identity fraud and compromise is one thing, but actually taking the necessary steps to comprehensively protect yourself and your loved ones from identity fraud take quite a lot more work. Overall, the goal is to build as many effective obstacles and firewalls as you can with your personal data.
The reason why is because this strategy will ultimately frustrate and discourage identity thieves which will drive them to try to target other individuals whose data is easier and less risky to obtain.
Here are the eight steps that you can take to strengthen your information against any would-be identity thieves.
Create passwords for everything
Did you know that 50 percent of Americans do not have all of their digital devices password protected? Sizable chunks of the population believe that setting up passwords is a hassle and a similar percentage believes that it is not actually necessary.
The simple fact is that not having a password on your phone, laptop, or tablet – and on all of your financial accounts. – is leaving you far more vulnerable to attack.
Mix up your passwords
One thing that identify thieves are counting on is that you will be lazy enough to use the same passwords on all of your electronic devices and financial accounts. For many people, if a fraudster figures out one password, they will be able to gain access to not one, but multiple profiles with dangerous information when in the wrong hands.
For that reason, you will want to be sure to change your passwords up for every profile that you create. Some things that you should never include in your passwords include your name, your birthday, and other easily accessible numbers such as your address or telephone number.
If you ever suspect that your password may be compromised, make sure to switch up your password as quickly as possible.
Avoid risky websites and links
Make sure to avoid clicking on suspicious links in emails or texts. This is a common tactic by identity thieves so if you think that a link is not legit, do not click on it. Also, never log in to a page that is unfamiliar compared to the typical login screen that you access.
Never give out personal information
One thing that identity thieves often do is try to pose as a bank or credit care employee over the phone to try to gain your information. You just have to remain smart if you ever receive this kind of call and remember that no legitimate banking organization is going to call you and ask you for your personal banking information such as a bank or credit card pin number.
If you suspect that the call could be legitimate but do not want to go further until you get further confirmation, simply ask the caller for their credentials, then hang up and contact the organization using the phone number that is listed on your card or banking statements.
Also, just remember that the IRS will never call you on the phone.
Regularly check your credit card reports
Not keeping tabs on your financial records is simply making the job easier for would-be fraudsters. Keep an eye on your credit card expenses and the things that are being charged to your card to make sure that your card is not being used by a criminal without your knowing.
If you notice any discrepancies or expenses that you did not make, make sure to call your credit card provider as quickly as possible.
Establish fraud alerts
If you think that your identity has actually been stolen, there are a number of companies that you can work with in order to set up an effective fraud alert. These alerts will be able to notify the other bureaus of the fraud alert.
Protect your personal information
Some people are quite cavalier with personal information, just throwing material with personal information such as banking info and mailing addresses away without a second thought. Really, you should be shredding all of this before you discard it in the trash.
Now that you know about identity fraud, and how to stop it, it is up to you to take the steps necessary to keep it from happening. Knowledge is power, but actually taking action must be done to make sure that you are safe!