How To Protect Yourself From Identity Theft

Recently the social security numbers, names, birthdates, and addresses of more than 143 million people were stolen from Equifax, one of the 3 major credit rating agencies. In addition to this, as many as 209,000 people’s credit card numbers may have been compromised.

This massive data breach opens up many people to becoming victims of identity theft, and while you should take steps to protect yourself from this recent data breach, remaining vigilant about all forms of identity theft is crucial. In 2016 as many as 13 million people were affected by some form of identity theft.

In this article, I’ll discuss steps you can take to help protect yourself from identity theft as a result of a data breach as well as 7 other common tactics thieves use to steal your identity.

1. Corporate Data Breaches and Hacking

A corporate data breach is said occur when a corporation’s confidential information is stolen. Recently, Equifax had a massive data breach that put anyone who had a credit report run through their agency at risk of identity theft. According to the Federal Trade Commission, you can combat the chance of falling victim to identity theft by taking a few steps.

First, check your credit report and financial accounts regularly. You can check your credit report for free by going to annualcreditreport.com. Remember that hackers may already have your credit or bank card information, so routinely check your credit and bank accounts as well.

In addition to monitoring your accounts, you can place a credit freeze on your files which requires anyone attempting to open an account in your name ‘lift’ the freeze with a secret PIN number. Credit freezes do cost money, both to enact one and to lift one, so an alternative is to place a fraud alert on your account. With a fraud alert, anytime someone tries to open a new account in your name a business must verify your identity before it issues credit, often times by contacting you directly. You can activate a credit freeze or fraud alert by calling one of the three credit rating agencies.

  • TransUnion: 800-680-7289
  • Experian: 888-397-3742
  • Equifax: 888-766-0008

Finally, file your taxes early before the scammers can.

2. Digging Through Your Garbage

Would it surprise you to learn that one of the most common tactics identity thieves use is to search dumpsters and landfills for disposed credit cards, medical and insurance bills, bank statements, and any financial forms that reveal addresses?

Your best bet for protecting yourself from this most common risk is to use a paper shredder to destroy all of these kinds of documents when you no longer need them.

3. Plain Old Fashion Stealing

Sometimes, identity thieves start their mischief by stealing a wallet or purse. These usually contain a driver’s license, credit cards, debit cards, and other information a thief needs to impersonate you.

You can take preventative action by cleaning out your wallet or purse down to the bare minimum and avoid carrying your Social Security card. You should also photocopy or scan both sides of everything in your wallet. This will help you remember what was lost and cancel and replace your debit and credit cards.

4. Fake Email Requests aka "Phishing"

Have you ever received an email asking you to update your personal information on a business website? Or an email congratulating you for winning some contest you know nothing about? This type of identity theft tactic, where thieves use fraudulent emails to lure people into giving them their login and password information, is called “phishing.”

We all routinely receive these phishing emails. The email falsely claims to be from an organization or website that you’re likely affiliated with, and the email can even look like it’s from that organization. The phishing websites the emails link to may even be look like the real business or organization websites you know.

One sign that an email is bogus is when the link you're being directed to click points to a website address (or URL) that is spelled differently from the legitimate organization’s website. You can see that by simply hovering over the email link without clicking it. Most browsers will give you the address of a link in the lower left corner before you actually click. For example, a phishing link to www.americanexpress.com might be www.americanexperts.com.

Additionally, most businesses, financial firms, or organizations will not ask for any personal information by email. When in doubt, you can always call the organization or go directly to their website to address the problem.

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5. Vishing

A close relative to Phishing, Vishing (Voice phishing) is a scam that is done over the phone. Victims usually receive calls explaining that their bank or credit accounts have been targeted by fraudulent activity. They are then asked to update their personal information to secure their account. You and I both know what happens next: your personal information is in the hands of an identity thief.

If you get a call like this, do not give any personal information over the phone. Instead, tell them you will call them back. You can then call a phone number you know and trust.

6. Skimming from an ATM

Even ATMs are at risk nowadays. Thieves use special data storage devices which are capable of capturing your credit card or debit card numbers and other sensitive information from the magnetic stripe on the card. Some identity thieves have even placed fake PIN number pads over the real ones or tiny cameras on the ATM to capture the PIN of their victim as they type it.

Be on the lookout for a pin pad which looks tampered with, and cover the number pad with your hand when you enter your PIN number.

7. Change of Address

Some identity thieves attempt to change your mailing address and redirect all your mail to another location. They are then able to sort through your bills and other items of interest for information they can exploit.

If you unexpectedly stop receiving bank statements or other sensitive material by mail, you should contact the mail service and sender right away to find out if something happened.

8. Social Networking

It’s becoming more common for identity thieves to check out a victim's online social network. Obviously, putting out too much personal or financial information online is discouraged. It can make you easy prey for identity thieves and other no-gooders. Using the various privacy options to control accessibility to your personal information is definitely something you should consider. But taking preventative action is even better. Keep whatever you want to remain private off the internet.

There you have it, 8 common techniques used by identity thieves and how you can minimize the risk of falling prey.

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