Don’t Become A Victim Of Identity Theft: Follow These 7 Steps

Updated: December 23, 2020

Identity fraud can wreak havoc on your savings, credit score and more. It can take considerable time and money to recover from ID theft. As an individual or business owner, you want to protect financial information, credit cards and credit history.

Yet, with news of huge breaches like those at Capital One and Equifax, you may worry about how you can avoid falling victim to identity theft.

Here are some strategies to boost your identity protection and give you peace of mind:

1. Shred paperwork

Shred anything that has your personal information on it before throwing the paperwork away. Criminals search trash bins for bank account numbers on financial statements, credit card bills and bank information. Identity thieves want account numbers for debit cards, driver’s license data, phone numbers and social security numbers (SSN), among other things. 

Also, keep existing paperwork locked up in a safe or locked filing cabinet. If you have a home office, you should secure other personal information that may belong to employees, clients or vendors. 

2. Wipe electronics

If you plan on selling, trading, recycling or throwing away any electronic devices, you need to wipe all personal data before making a sale. Electronics companies want you to upgrade so you need to have an easy way to get rid of older devices. Some, like Apple, have published guides on how to remove all personal information.

Companies like Samsung and Dell also provide help on how to wipe electronics. YouTube provides step-by-step videos about clearing all personal information from laptops, mobile devices and desktop towers.

3. Use different passwords

Although it’s more convenient to do so, don’t use the same password for multiple sites. If a criminal figures out one password, you can bet they’ll try that password again. They’ll try to use that password on every site they can think of to gain access to your personal data. They can then use it themselves to commit fraud or sell it on the Dark Web. 

Instead, use a password repository to remember unique passwords for all those sites you like to regularly use. For example, 1Password offers plans for families and businesses. The plans include unlimited password access and even safe storage for files you may want to secure. You get one master password for your family plan or business account. The master password provides access to various vaults. In these vaults, you can organize passwords and other private information you want to keep safe.

4. Minimize activity on public WiFi

Nothing may be more convenient than discovering that your gym, coffee shop, or campus has free public WiFi. It means you don’t have to rely on your data to access social media or deal with slow internet access.

But, there are security concerns. Many public WiFi networks don’t use encryption. Avoid making payments or opening your bank account on a mobile app when connected to public networks. If your company has a VPN (virtual private network), then you can securely send information and files. Also, only browse sites that use HTTPS, which is a sign of an encrypted site.

5. Heighten security measures

With so many security threats, now is the time to pile on as many layers of security as possible. The newest mobile devices and apps often come with biometric security like facial recognition in place of passwords.

Also, opt to include two-step authentication. With this identity-protection service, you use a password and another step like a security question you would only know the answer to.

6. Regularly update passwords

Change passwords regularly to stop hackers from breaking password codes. You can also change access settings to control who has access to certain accounts. 

The need to change passwords frequently is another reason to get a password repository tool.  

7. Sign up for credit monitoring services and identity theft insurance

Periodically request credit reports from Experian, Equifax and Transunion. The major credit bureaus provide free credit reporting services that help you spot suspicious activity on your credit file like new accounts you didn’t open.

Credit monitoring services, credit card companies and financial institutions now provide fraud alerts from their mobile apps to help stop suspicious activity. You can also use identity theft protection services that provide identity theft insurance. Web monitoring and recovery services are also available to assist with ID theft.  

Remain vigilant and stay up to date with ID theft protection strategies. For ultrasecure credit, check updates from the Federal Trade Commission about new scams and data breaches. This approach is especially important if you plan on obtaining any new credit or are starting loan applications for a home or vehicle.

John Boitnott has been writing for TV, print, radio and internet companies for 25 years. He’s written for BusinessInsider, Fortune, NBC, Fast Company, Inc., Entrepreneur and Venturebeat, among others.

Feature Illustration: Laura Caseley For The Money Manual