13 Proven Ways to Prevent Identity Theft

13 Proven Ways to Prevent Identity Theft

July 21, 2020         Written By Heaven Speirs

Identity theft can have a long-term impact on your credit and finances, especially if it is not detected early on. Some identity fraud risks are unavoidable, but there are ways to protect your personal and financial information. If identity theft occurs, these steps will also minimize the damage you incur. Read on to learn thirteen proven ways to prevent identity theft. 

Keep Your Social Security Number Safe

Your social security number should be your most well-guarded item. Do not carry your social security card with you in your wallet. Keep it in a safe, locked storage box at home. Do not give your SSN willingly over the phone or online. The only time you should give out your social security number is with a reputable institution where you initiated the contact. Loan and credit card applications will require your SSN, and you may be asked to provide it for a background check. As long as you approach with caution, you can complete these applications while protecting your identity. 

Freeze Your Credit

A credit freeze is essentially a shield for your personal information. It prevents your SSN from being used on the credit card or loan applications. If you believe you have already been the victim of identity theft, a credit freeze can prevent you from incurring further damage. This is also a good option for elderly adults who no longer need to apply for lines of credit. However, if you plan to apply for credit in the near future, a credit freeze may be an unnecessary step with minimal benefits. 

You must enact a credit freeze with each credit bureau: TransUnion (1-888-909-8872), Equifax (1-800-349-9960), and Experian (1-888-397-3742). If you want to remove the credit freeze, you will once again need to contact each bureau. The process is slightly time-consuming, but it can be worth the protection if you’re worried about identity theft. You can see what the FTC recommends for this process by visiting their website FAQ’s here https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0497-credit-freeze-faqs

Use Strong, Unique Passwords for All Online Accounts

Using a different password for every online account may seem overwhelming, but it is vital for identity theft protection. Here’s why: if your username/email address and password are stolen from one account, the thieves may attempt to use those login credentials on other sites. If you use the same information for online banking, shopping accounts with stored payment details, digital wallets, credit card accounts, etc., the hackers now have access to nearly all of your money and information. 

Choose strong, unique passwords for all of your accounts. If you need to write them down, keep the information in a locked box, such as a small safe in your home. Change your passwords at least once a year. Immediately change your password if you are notified of a data breach or any other compromise to your account. If you have the same login credentials for multiple accounts, you will need to change the passwords for those as well. 

Do Not Store Your PIN with Your Debit Card

Your four-digit PIN is a critical security component of your debit card. Instead of carrying your PIN number in your wallet, memorize the number. Choose a PIN that is easy for you to remember but not easy for someone to guess. Instead of your birth year, you may choose the house number across the street or a memorable shape on the number pad. If you have multiple PINs for multiple cards, choose a different number for each account. 

Shred Important Documents

You might think to throw away documents at home or in the office makes them safe, but that’s not necessarily true. Your trash can is just as vulnerable to theft as your mailbox or email account. Shred all important documents when you no longer need them, including bank statements, credit reports, purchase receipts, insurance information, and checks.

Regularly Check Your Bank and Credit Card Statements 

Make a habit of checking your bank accounts and credit card statements. This gives you the ability to look for any unauthorized charges that you did not make. Review the transactions, the amount owed, payments made, etc. If anything looks out of place, contact the financial institution right away. They should be able to reimburse lost funds, replace your credit or debit card, change your account number, and take other steps to minimize damage from the incident.

How often should you check your bank and credit card accounts? At least once a month, but preferably more often than that. We recommend reviewing your accounts every morning as part of your morning routine. If you do not have time for that, you may choose one day a week to verify transactions. You could also look at your account every payday, after every bill you pay, or any other time you like. Frequency and consistency are key to preventing full-blown identity theft. 

Monitor Your Credit Report and Credit Score

Check your credit report for discrepancies. This is one of the best steps you can take to protect your identity. The longer you wait to report identity theft, the more difficult it will be to recover from it. You should review your credit report at least once a year, and monitor your credit score on a monthly basis. Many credit card providers now offer free credit scores with monthly bill statements. If you see an unexpected change in your credit score, look over your credit report for the source. Dispute any unauthorized applications or debts, and consider freezing your credit while you resolve the matter. 

Set up Text or Email Alerts for Transactions

You should be able to request push alerts from your mobile banking app or credit card account. This will give you a text or email every time something is charged to your account. If you notice an unauthorized transaction, you can immediately contact the financial institution to report the issue. You could also cancel your card and request a new one in the mail. As with all identity theft prevention steps, quick action is the best way to protect your finances. 

“Pause” Your Credit Card If It Gets Lost or Stolen

If you can’t find your credit card, put a pause on your account. Many mobile apps now let you do this with a simple on/off switch on your phone. If you do not have that option though, you can contact your card provider and report the card lost or stolen. If you do not find the card after several days, request a replacement card in the mail. The pause will ensure your card cannot be used without your permission, should it fall into the wrong hands. 

Watch Your Mailbox and Check the Mail Daily

Mailbox theft may seem antiquated in the digital age, but it is still a high-risk target for identity theft. Make sure you regularly remove mail from your mailbox. Learn approximately what time the mail gets delivered, and check it right afterward when possible. Ideally, you should never leave your outgoing mail unattended. Take mail directly to a postal carrier instead of leaving it in your mailbox, especially if it contains money, account information, and important personal data.

Do Not Give out Personal Information to Someone Who Calls/Emails You

Scammers and identity thieves have been known to imitate banks, student loan providers, and others to try and get their hands on your information. Do not give out your personal information unless you were the one to contact the bank, lender, credit card provider, etc. If someone is contacting you to collect a debt, ask what company they are working on behalf of and contact that company directly. If you do not recognize the company or the debt described, the call was most likely from a scammer. 

Use Firewalls on Your Computer

Firewalls will help to stop hackers from getting information saved on your computer. Make sure you have the latest updates installed, as hackers are consistently finding new ways to get into the computers of innocent bystanders. Use additional security, such as a third-party antivirus program, to further protect your information online. 

Ask Insurance Companies for a Replacement Account Number

Insurance fraud is an often-forgotten element of identity theft. If your insurance information was compromised during a data breach or other incident, ask your private medical insurer for a replacement account number. Almost all medical insurance companies have some form of fraud protection, and you’ll want to check your policy to see exactly what protections your company affords. Make sure you know the number to call if you see an unauthorized claim that has been made in your name.

Many of these identity theft prevention steps might seem obvious, but a simple slipup could cause a ton of backlash. Protecting your personal and financial information will save you the hassle of re-establishing your credit after identity theft. If you know your information was compromised in a cybersecurity incident, check out How to Protect Your Information after a Data Breach. Then follow-through with the steps above to keep your data secure. 

The information contained within this article was accurate as of July 21, 2020. For up-to-date information on any of the terms, cards or offers mentioned above, visit the issuer's website. Many of the offers on this article are from our affiliate partners, and LowCards.com may be compensated if you take action with any of our affiliate partners.

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heaven

About Heaven Speirs

Heaven Speirs is a contributing writer for LowCards.com. She remains up-to-date with the latest developments in the credit card industry and the financial sector as a whole. Heaven has over 10 years of experience in online journalism, the bulk of which has been focused on personal finance. Heaven attended Oklahoma State University, where she discovered her talent for research and content creation. In her spare time, Heaven enjoys painting, playing poker, and spending time with her husband and three dogs.