How To Protect Your Identity
If someone has used your personal information to open bank accounts, steal your tax refund, or file fake health insurance cards, you may be a victim of identity theft. These acts can damage your credit status and cost you time and money to restore your good name. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates that 9 million people have their identities stolen each year. Due to the nature of technology and the Internet, your personal information is always at risk. It’s important to be aware of the different types of identity theft, how your identity can be stolen, and how to protect yourself.
What makes up your identity?
Your personal identifying information is what makes up your identity and what identity thieves target. This can be your name, address, tax ID, social security number, phone numbers, and anything that can be used to qualify you as an individual. This is the information that really needs to be protected. You may think that since some of this information is public record that you don’t really need to protect it. However, this is the information that scammers use can against you.
Read More: Identity Theft
Why would someone steal your identity?
You may be thinking; there’s nothing special about me so why would anyone want to steal my information? You might have pretty good credit, and an identity thief may have bad credit. Your good credit is enticing to these thieves and that’s reason enough to want to steal your identity. They’ll be able to take your information and open a new line of credit for themselves in your name. If you’re unemployed or on disability, a thief might want to steal your identity so they can receive your benefits. You might think there’s nothing an identity thief would want to steal from you, but there could be more than you think.
Child Identity Theft
The most common target of identity thieves is children. This is because parents rarely check their children’s credit reports and theft can go undetected for years. Childhood identity theft occurs when thieves steal the social security number of children. Parents provide their children’s social security number for tax, financial, insurance, and school documents, which gives potential thieves many opportunities to steal those identities.
Children start off with no credit, so if thieves are looking to open a new line of credit, children are a good target and don’t check their credit as adults do. Only when the child reaches adulthood and is turned down for credit do they realize that they have been a victim. The thief may have used the victim’s social security number to apply for credit, as well as get a driver’s license and establish an identity.
Read More: Child Identity Theft
How do thieves steal your identity?
There are several ways identity thieves may obtain your personal information. Identity theft can range from non-technological to technological schemes. However, many fraudsters steal your identity from data breaches. If you have your passwords stored on your computer or phone, you may have received notifications that your passwords have been compromised due to a data breach. Since information has become so readily available digitally, data breaches have been on the rise. There are many other common types of identity theft you should be aware of. Here are some ways thieves can steal your identities.
- Trash Rummaging
- Even though many people have gone paperless, and their information is online, dumpster diving is still an extremely common form of identity theft. Thieves will rummage through your trash to obtain personally identifiable information such as credit card bills, utility bills, medical insurance, and bank statements.
- Phishing Schemes
- Phishing schemes are the most common type of computer identity theft schemes. These schemes are attempts by scammers to trick you into giving out your personal information, such as your bank account numbers, passwords and credit card numbers. A scammer will contact you pretending to be from a legitimate business through e-mail, social media, phone call, or text message.
- Malware Attacks
- Malware is a type of cyberattack in which hackers infect your devices with malicious software that can spy on you, steal your personal information, or hack your devices until you pay the hacker a ransom. Generally, the attack is a result of cyber-criminals releasing their malicious code on the Internet and attempting to infect as many sites as possible.
- Thieves have been known to shoulder spy on ATM and payment machine to steal information. Thieves are sometimes able to manipulate credit card processing machines and ATM’s by inserting a device that captures the account information of whoever uses it.
Read More: How to Avoid a Credit Repair Scam
How to protect yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft.
Now that you know how thieves can steal your identity, it’s important to protect yourself and your family from becoming victims. Here’s how you can stay protected.
Shred any trash with identifying information. Bank statements, anything with your social security number, and old credit cards need to be shredded so thieves can’t find anything if they’re looking through your trash.
Check your credit report on a regular basis. Checking your credit report can help you keep an eye out for fraudulent activity like new credit cards or loans and inquiries you don’t recognize.
Select difficult passwords, keep them secret and change them often. Also, keep your passwords in a password manager rather than storing them in your browser. This leaves your passwords vulnerable to malware and other hacks.
Keep important documents in a safe place. Safeguard your important documents at home by putting them in a secure place, like a locked file cabinet or a safe.
What should you do if your identity is stolen?
Identity theft can happen to anyone, and if it does, it’s good to be prepared and know what steps you need to take next. If you discover your identity has been stolen, you want to be sure you take immediate action. Be sure to contact accounts that have been affected so that appropriate action can be taken. Take precautionary steps by contacting all of your creditors and banks, even if you’re uncertain if they have been affected. You’ll also want to contact all three credit bureaus to put a freeze on your credit reports. This will prevent creditors from accessing your credit report unless you take the extra steps to unfreeze the reports.
You’ll want to file an identity theft report with your local law enforcement and with the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC will provide you with information on what to do next. You can visit your local police station to file a police report on the theft as well. If you suspect your social security number has been compromised, immediately contact the Social Security Office (800-772-1213) and Internal Revenue Service (800-829-1040).
Having your identity stolen can have devastating consequences. Purchases made in your name could result in large amounts of debt and a damaged credit report that could take months or even years to resolve. It’s important to be vigilant and take necessary precautions to protect your identity from thieves. As you take steps to protect your information and identity, you’ll make yourself a more difficult target for thieves and may even stop them in their tracks.
Katherine Fatta is the Social Media and Content Specialist at Navicore Solutions. She creates fun and informative social media posts that engage the public. She’s also the host of Navicore’s podcast, ‘Millennial Debt Domination.’ You can listen to our podcast here.