How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

Identity theft is so common that nearly everyone has experienced it or knows someone who has.  Unfortunately, it’s becoming increasingly frequent because of the technological age in which we live. 

All our information is online and is regularly accessed and transferred to perform various necessary daily functions. Just as you can’t get away from using the internet, you can’t get away from the risk of identity theft. Criminals are also becoming more innovative, and even people who believe they’re too clever to be tricked are falling prey to advanced ID theft tactics. 

According to a 2021 report from the Federal Trade Commission, Americans lost $3.3 billion to identity fraud in 2020. This was a significant jump from the $1.8 billion reported in 2019. The number of Americans reporting losing money to fraud is also rising, with 34% of 2020 fraud reports citing loss of money as compared with 23% in 2019.

Fortunately, you can learn skills to drastically decrease your chances of becoming a victim of identity theft. Those skills are precisely what you’ll be learning today.

Vulnerable Populations

Even though everyone is a potential victim of identity theft, specific populations tend to be more vulnerable and are more frequently targeted. This doesn’t mean that the rest of us can relax and not be cautious; it just means that vulnerable groups should exercise extra caution. 

  • Younger people: Children and young adults are often targets of identity theft for two reasons. Firstly, they’re usually more naive than most adults, and secondly, their credit records and identities are usually clean and uncluttered, making them desirable prospects for thieves. 
  • Older people: Older adults are also prone to attacks, mainly because they are less tech-savvy. Older people are more likely to be convinced by fraudulent notifications and are less likely to do online research to verify incidents. 
  • Careless social media users: If there’s one thing an identity fraudster loves, it’s irresponsible people on social media. From pictures of IDs to government documents (like tax forms), people post lots of personal information on public platforms that fraudsters use for nefarious purposes. 
  • Migrant workers: People working away from home can be vulnerable targets too, often because of the exploitation of these workers. Also, when people are away from home for long periods, they don’t always have access to alerts and messages warning them of fraud. Military personnel and people working at sea are also vulnerable for this reason.

How To Avoid Identity Theft

While prevalent and inescapable, identity theft can be prevented. Here’s how: 

Regularly check your credit report.

Not enough Americans make use of credit reports. Depending on who you bank with, you can access yours for free, though in some cases, you may need to pay a small amount. Your credit report shows you the status of all your accounts, as well as any inquiries made on your credit status. 

Regularly perusing these reports could alert you to suspicious activity. It’s also an excellent idea to opt-in for notifications from credit report providers so all credit alerts will be sent to you in real time, and you can check for any unauthorized transactions. 

Manage your passwords.

Identity thieves love a weak and unprotected password. These days, one password might be all they need to access your personal and banking details to steal your identity and hard-earned money. 

Make sure that you regularly update your passwords and that they are not predictable and easy to guess. Use a password manager for the ultimate peace of mind. Biometric passwords also work well, and if your mobile device doesn’t have that option, you can use an app. 

Be careful with public wifi.

One of the most common ways hackers steal your identity is via public wifi access. Therefore, you should exercise extreme caution regarding public wifi and only use it when necessary. 

Ensuring that your device is encrypted or that you use a VPN will also help add layers of protection to your devices. Finally, make sure you regularly update anti-virus software. 

Destroy your paper trail.

Many people just throw their documents in the trash or leave them lying around. But thieves have been known to retrieve documents from the trash to access PINs, passwords, and other credentials pertinent to identity theft. As such, after you’re finished with the paper copy of a personal document, be sure to shred or burn it to ensure its proper disposal. 

Be careful what you post online.

In addition to being mindful of your social media posts, you must act carefully online in general. From browsing the web to emailing to managing your social profiles, ensure that you never respond to unnatural-looking links or browse unsavory websites. 

These are the hunting grounds for identity thieves. Therefore, it is also imperative to properly screen all mobile messages across platforms. Texts, emails, and other notifications from unknown sources should be blocked and reported immediately. 

Monitor your identity online.

Many great sites and apps are available to help you determine if your data and details might have been leaked online. You enter your email address, and they do the checking for you. Any accounts that have been compromised will show up. 

Your next step will be to change your passwords on those accounts and contact the account provider to ensure that no fraudulent transactions were made.

Keep your IDs safe and secure.

You should always keep all forms of identification safe, secure, and ideally on your person. Unfortunately, criminals are constantly looking for ways to steal or copy IDs to commit identity fraud. Therefore, if you lose any form of ID, you must immediately report it and apply for a replacement. 

While identity theft is rife and on the rise, you don’t have to sit back and be a helpless victim. Hopefully, these tips will help you take power back from identity thieves and cyber-criminals. 

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