Identity Theft by CafeCredit, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0, no changes made.
Identity Theft by CafeCredit, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0, no changes made.

Unfortunately, we live in a time when identity theft and fraud are running rampant. Almost every month, we hear of major security breaches with companies like Yahoo, Uber, Equifax, and Dropbox all compromised. When these types of breaches occur, millions of usernames and passwords are hacked, often resulting in identity theft and fraud.

So, what can you do to protect yourself in 2018? What steps can you take to ensure that you don’t get hacked?

We’re going to break down the how, what, and why of protecting yourself, touching on everything from your digital accounts to your bank account.

9 Steps to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

Many times, identity theft starts with a digital breach. From there it often moves to bank accounts and credit cards, which can be an absolute nightmare. In order to protect yourself against these things, follow these nine steps.

#1 – Shred your documents. Don’t toss bank statements and credit card receipts in the trash. Destroy them using a cross-cut shredder or shredding service.

#2 – Strengthen your passwords. Use random combinations of letters, numbers, and special characters. Create different passwords for each account and alter them frequently. Alternatively, you can use a password manager like OnePass or Dashlane to create and manage all of your passwords for you.

#3 – Check your credit reports. You’re entitled to one free credit report every year from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus. Request one report every four months and review it for suspicious or incorrect information. Visit to request your reports.

#4 – Guard your Social Security Number. Avoid sharing it when it’s not absolutely necessary, and don’t keep it, or your Social Security card, in your wallet. After all, this is typically a key identifier for many accounts.

#5 – Be smart about social media. It is smartest to leave personal details, such as your birthday or address, off of your profiles. This information can be used in an effort to get you to click on malicious links. Utilize your privacy settings and be cautious about whom you accept as a connection.

#6 – Secure your phone. Lock your device with a password, turn off Bluetooth when you’re not using it, and be cautious when downloading apps — only download from sources you know and trust. Additionally, consider using end-to-end encrypted messaging apps such as WhatsApp.

Phishing: Avoid the hook; U.S. Air Force graphic by Airman Shawna L. Keyes, public domain.
Phishing: Avoid the hook; U.S. Air Force graphic by Airman Shawna L. Keyes, public domain.

#7 – Know the signs of phishing. Phishing is when a scammer creates a legitimate looking email or contact that is intended to steal personal information. For example, they may create a password reset email that looks like it’s from Google in an effort to get you to type in your password. Watch out for emails, links, or unsolicited phone calls asking for your personal information.

#8 – Monitor your financial statements. Report any suspicious activity on your bank accounts and credit card accounts as soon as you notice it. Many banks offer fraud protection apps that are worth investigating for another level of security. If your bank or credit card company offers free online or mobile apps that will warn you of suspicious account activity as soon as it’s detected, sign up for them.

#9 – Keep your mail safe. Stealing your mail is one of the easiest ways for a thief to steal your identity. Consider using a locked mailbox or P.O. Box, and have the post office hold your mail if you go out of town. Additionally, shred any mail that could contain personal information, such as credit card or bank statements.

These guidelines can help you keep sensitive information safe. Remember to be proactive to protect your personal information. These tips will be useless after your identity is stolen.

Fraud Alerts and Security Freezes

You can stop ID thieves before they cause damage by placing a security freeze on your credit reports at all three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Freezes will prevent identity thieves from looking at your credit report. To sign up for one, go to each bureau’s home page and locate the security freeze link.

If you haven’t placed a security freeze on your accounts, and you spot a sign of identity theft, put an initial fraud alert on your credit report immediately. It is fast, free, stays in place for 90 days, and gives you extra legal protection. After that, request a security freeze.

Filing a fraud alert is appropriate anytime your identity information has been compromised, like when you lose your wallet, cell phone, or computer, or if your home or car is broken into. But you should also do it after more-subtle warning signs, such as finding unauthorized charges on your credit-card statement (even if quickly resolved) or failing to receive expected bills or mail.

Fraud alerts are free; security freezes typically cost $5 to $10 per person per credit bureau each time you place or temporarily lift one. Prices range from free to $20 depending on state law. But if you’re a victim of identity fraud, freezes are usually free. You can initiate a freeze online directly with each credit bureau; for fraud alerts, you only need to inform one bureau, which will pass the request on to the other two.

Come back tomorrow for Part Two: Credit Card Skimming.

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