Updated: Sep 23, 2022
Identity theft has become a common problem, not only in the US, but the entire world. However, residents in the US are arguably most vulnerable, with identity theft rates being almost three times higher than other countries. Nearly 33% of Americans have been a victim of an identity theft incident at some point in their lives. Although 2022 isn't over yet the statistics for this years' identity theft rates has increased again, and early numbers indicate there has been a victim of identity theft ever 22 seconds this year. The average amount lost was $500. As incidences of fraud and identity theft are on the rise it's important to know what steps to take to better protect yourself.
Password protect all devices
** As many as 52% of Americans say they do not password protect their mobile phones, computers, or tablets. This is a huge mistake as there is a plethora of personal information on all of our devices. Make sure you password protect each device that you use to prevent unauthorized access to your information.**
Use strong passwords and a 2-Step Verification Process if available
** Using the same password for all apps across devices puts you at serious risk. All someone would have to do is figure out one password and they can access and take over any of your accounts they'd like. Instead, use several different passwords, use a combinations of capital and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols to create strong passwords, and when it's available require a 2-Step verification process. This ensures anytime there's a new sign-in on any of your accounts you are notified and have to verify and approve the sign-in. This prevents someone from getting into your account even if they figure out or find your password.**
Freeze your credit
** You have the option to freeze your credit with the three major credit bureaus- Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax - and this restricts any new credit files from being opened. It is free to freeze your credit, and you can unfreeze it at any time. This provides the best protection against a thief from using your information to open a new account. **
Sign up for alerts with your bank and other financial institutions
** Many banks and financial institutions now offer to send alerts for various transactions on your accounts. Withdrawals, or credits to your account, and also when and where your credit cards are being used are some of the alerts you can opt into. This is the best way to be fully aware of the activity on your accounts. **
Check your credit reports often
** There are several free websites available to the public to check credit scores for free. CreditReport.com and AnnualCreditReport.com are just two examples of websites where you can check your credit score, and what's listed on your credit report, for free. It's very important to keep a close eye on all new credit accounts, the balance for existing accounts, and to keep all of your information as updated as possible. This limits the potential for new accounts being opened or new lines of credit being created without you knowing about it promptly. **
Closely monitor all financial and medical reports
** Every month you should be closely monitoring all account statements, and any medical billing statements you receive. Another popular form of identity theft is medical identity theft, and thieves will use your information to go to the doctor or fill prescriptions under your insurance. It's important to catch any unauthorized charges as soon as possible to limit your risk. **
Safeguard all credit / debit cards and personal information
** There has also been a rise in familial identity theft, or family members opening up new, unauthorized accounts or using existing credit cards to make purchases online. As much as we'd all like to trust those closest to us, unfortunately anyone is capable of anything, so the best way to prevent a family member gaining access to your information is to safeguard it at all times. Make sure your wallet, purse, backpack, etc are put in a safe location that only you have access to. Don't carry social security cards, birth certificates, or any other important identifying information on your person, instead keep these documents in a safe, locked place at home. Limit the amount of credit and debit cards you carry on you, and make sure the pin numbers are different on all your cards. **
Don't use public Wi-Fi, unless using a VPN
** Public Wi-Fi is definitely convenient, and has become more popular over the last few years, with most places of business offering free Wi-Fi to their customers. Although free Wi-Fi at your local coffee shop or hamburger stand may seem convenient it is also the perfect opportunity for fraudsters to steal your info. Unfortunately, public Wi-Fi networks are notoriously easy to hack, and if a thief is able to hack your network connection they can gain access to your usernames and passwords. If you are forced to used Wi-Fi while you are away from your home network use your mobile hotspot whenever available; sharing the connection between your phone and your computer will allow you to browse on a private connection and make it a little harder for someone to hack. If you don't have access to a mobile hotspot and you absolutely have to use public Wi-Fi use a VPN, or a virtual private network. A virtual private network encrypts your data and makes it meaningless to hackers; instead of seeing your usernames and passwords they instead see a string of random letters and numbers that are undecipherable. This is the safest way to browse the internet, even compared to home networks, and virtual private network software can be easily obtained and downloaded. **
While identity theft and fraud are on a constant rise learn the steps to take to protect yourself from potential theft. Taking a few precautions can save you time and money and keep you protected from life changing events. If a thief steals your identity and opens up credit cards, or buys a car, or files your taxes, it can not only interrupt your financial stream, it can also negatively impact your credit, it can make it harder for you to qualify for a new car or for a personal loan for yourself; all in all identity theft is so much more than just losing money. It can also be very hard to prove to a bank that you did not authorize certain transactions, or that it wasn't you that filed for a new credit card. This can result in permanent loss of funds and permanent damage of your credit history. Don't become a victim, learn what you can do to protect yourself today!
If you think you’ve been, or are currently, a victim of identity theft please contact your local authorities.