UPDATED: October 13, 2022

Identity theft is a growing problem, especially for people who want to build their financial futures. This is particularly true today, as criminals keep finding new ways to access personal information and commit fraud. 

In this article, we’ll teach you how to set up strong security measures to keep you safe from identity theft. We want you to feel safe and confident about keeping your information safe and securing your financial future.

That’s why we’ve asked experts and looked into government sources to gather the best tips for avoiding identity theft. We also checked other authoritative sites on ID theft protection and cybersecurity.

The last thing you want is to miss out on crucial security steps that can ruin your finances. So, keep reading until the end to learn about the best defense you have against ID theft. 

Preventing identity theft doesn’t need to be as complicated as it sounds. Here are some tips that’ll help you do exactly that.

1. Use strong and regularly-updated passwords

When creating passwords for online accounts, it's important to use strong passwords that are difficult to guess. A strong password should be at least eight characters long and include a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.

You must avoid using easily-guessed words like your name or birth date. Instead, try to come up with a phrase that you can easily remember, but that would be difficult for someone else to guess.

It's also important to choose different passwords for different accounts. That way, if one account is compromised, your other accounts will still be safe.

Once you've chosen a strong password, make sure to change it every few months to reduce the risk of identity theft further. 

When changing your password, choose a new one that's different from your previous password. This will help to ensure that even if a hacker manages to obtain your old password, they'll still be unable to access your account.

2. Keep your Social Security number safe

Your Social Security number (SSN) is one of the most important pieces of your personal information. It's used to track your earnings and tax contributions, and it serves as a key identifier for opening financial accounts and applying for government benefits.

Unfortunately, hackers can also use this information to open new lines of credit, file for tax refunds, and commit other types of fraud. As such, it's essential to safeguard your Social Security number at all times.

There are a few simple steps you can take to protect your Social Security number:

Never carry your Social Security card in your wallet or purse. 

This makes it easy for someone to steal your personal information if your wallet or purse is lost or stolen. Keep this item in a safe place at home instead.

Shred documents before throwing them out. 

This is especially true for documents that contain your Social Security number. This includes tax documents, pay stubs, and credit card statements.

Limit the use of your Social Security number. 

While your SSN is required for many important financial transactions, there are also many situations where it's not necessary to provide this sensitive piece of information. For instance, when applying for a new credit card, you may be asked to provide your SSN, but you can usually provide an alternative form of identification instead.

3. Safeguard your devices

These days, your devices or gadgets contain more personal information than ever before. From your contact lists to your financial information, your phones and tablets are a treasure trove of data that thieves can use for identity theft. 

As a result, it's more important than ever to protect your mobile devices from theft and unauthorized access. One way to do this is to use a passcode or fingerprint lock on your devices. This helps to ensure that only authorized users can access your information.

In addition, you should be careful about what information you store on your devices. 

For example, you should avoid storing passwords or sensitive financial information on your phones. Instead, keep these items in a secure location, such as a password-protected app or a physical safe.

4. Be careful about the information you have online

Nowadays, we're constantly sharing personal information online. Whether it’s through social media, online shopping, or even just browsing the web, we're leaving a trail of information that anyone with an internet connection can access.

That’s why it’s important to be mindful of the information you're sharing online and only share what's necessary. You must avoid posting sensitive information like your birth date, home address, credit card number, or bank account information online.

Furthermore, keep your computer security up-to-date by installing the latest software updates and antivirus protection. This will help to protect your computer from malware and other online threats.

5. Protect your personal records

You must keep your records, such as your birth certificate, Social Security card, passport, and tax returns in a safe place, like a fire-proof safe or locked filing cabinet. You should also take care when disposing of documents that contain sensitive information.

For example, you should shred old bills and financial statements before throwing them away. This will help to prevent thieves from going through your trash and finding your personal information.

Additionally, be sure to keep an eye on your mail. If you see that a bill or other important document is missing, contact the company immediately. This can help to prevent thieves from intercepting your mail and stealing your information.

6. Limit what you carry

Carrying around multiple credit cards and other personal information makes it easy for thieves to steal your identity if your wallet or purse is lost or stolen. You can limit the risk of identity theft by carrying only the items you need daily.

For instance, only carry your driver's license and credit card if you're going to be using them. If you're carrying a checkbook, leave your Social Security card at home. If you have multiple credit cards, consider carrying only one or two with you.

It’s better to leave extra credit cards and identifying information at home in a secure location. When you do need to carry sensitive information with you, keep it in a secure place, such as a zippered pocket or money belt.

7. Exercise vigilance when traveling

Whenever you travel, it's important to be vigilant about protecting your personal information. Identity theft can happen anywhere, so it's important to take precautions when you're away from home.

When traveling by air, for example, only bring the essential documents and items that you need, and leave any unnecessary valuables at home. When going through airport security, be sure to keep an eye on your belongings to make sure no one takes anything without your knowledge.

If you're traveling by car, make sure to keep your belongings locked up in a safe place. Never leave important documents or valuables in plain sight where thieves can easily steal them.

In addition, keep a close eye on your belongings when in crowds or busy areas. Pickpockets are often looking for easy targets, so it's important to keep your valuables close to you at all times.

8. Avoid connecting to public wi-fi networks

Many individuals rely on public Wi-Fi to stay connected while they're out and about. Whether you're working at a coffee shop, catching up on the news at the airport, or checking your email at the library, public Wi-Fi is a convenient way to get online.

However, there are also risks associated with using public Wi-Fi, and one of the most serious is the risk of identity theft.

When you connect to a public wi-fi network, all of the data that you send or receive is unencrypted and accessible to anyone who is on the same network. This means that if an identity thief is on the same network, they can easily intercept your data and use it to access your accounts or commit fraud.

To protect yourself, it's important to avoid using public wi-fi whenever possible. If you must use public wi-fi, be sure to use a virtual private network (VPN) and only access websites that use HTTPS encryption. These will help to prevent others from being able to see the data that you’re sending and receiving.

9. Keep yourself updated with common social engineering and phishing techniques

Social engineering is the process of manipulating people into divulging confidential information. Phishing is a type of social engineering that uses email or text messages to trick people into disclosing personal information or clicking on malicious links.

For instance, a criminal may pose as a customer service representative and call you asking for your credit card number. Or they may send you an email that appears to be from your bank, asking you to click on a link and enter your login information.

If you receive an email or text message that looks suspicious, don't reply to it or click on any links. Instead, contact the company directly to verify the message.

10. Review your privacy settings on social media

Identity thieves can also get your personal information from your social media accounts. To protect yourself, it's important to be aware of the privacy settings for each social media platform that you use.

Be sure to allow only people that you know and trust to see your posts and pictures. Moreover, be cautious about accepting friend requests from people that you don't know, as they may be trying to gain access to your account.

When setting up a new account, take the time to read through the privacy policy and choose the settings that best protect your information. For example, you may want to limit who can see your contact information or make your posts visible only to friends.

11. Check your credit reports regularly

If worse comes to worst and your information is stolen despite your best efforts to protect it, the best safeguard you can have is to check your credit reports for suspicious or irregular transactions regularly. This should help you detect any anomalies and allow you to act quickly to prevent any damages from happening.

Regularly review your credit reports from all three major credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. This will help you to catch any suspicious activity early and take steps to resolve the issue.

You should keep an eye on your credit score and credit utilization, as these can be indicators of identity theft. You can obtain a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies once per year at AnnualCreditReport.com to check for any suspicious activity.

If you find any questionable charges or unusual activity on your accounts or credit report, report it immediately to the proper authorities.

How to report identity theft

If you believe you've been a victim of identity theft, it's important to take action quickly to minimize the damage and prevent further unauthorized use of your information.

The first step is to alert your financial institution and request that they close any accounts that have been opened fraudulently in your name.

You should also contact the major credit reporting bureaus and request a fraud alert on your credit report. This will make it more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name.

Finally, you should file a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) online or by calling 1-877-438-4338. This will create a police report that you can use to help resolve any financial disputes that may arise as a result of the identity theft.

Where could an identity thief access your personal information

You might be surprised to learn how many places an identity thief can access your personal information. Here are just a few examples:

  • Your trash: Believe it or not, identity thieves will often go through people's trash, looking for bills or other documents that contain personal information.
  • Your mail: If you don't have a locked mailbox, an identity thief could easily take your mail and get their hands on your personal information.
  • Your wallet: If you lose your wallet or it gets stolen, an identity thief can use your driver's license, credit cards, and other identification to open new accounts in your name.
  • Your computer: If you're not careful about securing your computer, an identity thief could gain access to your personal information by downloading spyware or viruses.
  • Your workplace: Many employers keep employee records on-site, which means that an identity thief could potentially access your personal information if they broke into your workplace.

Conclusion

Identity theft is a serious problem that can have lasting consequences. Fortunately, there are steps that you can take to protect yourself from this type of fraud.

By being aware of the ways that identity thieves operate and taking precautions to secure your personal information, you can help keep your identity safe.

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