Identity theft is one of the most alarming yet under-discussed problems affecting American consumers.
ElitePersonalFinance has created a list of 100 ways to prevent identity theft. Let’s start with the top 10 important of them.
|Place a security freeze on your credit file.
|Request and pay for a freeze on your credit report from Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion. The bureau you notify will inform the other two of the request.
Check your state credit freeze laws and costs here!
|New creditors won’t be able to pull your file without your prior approval. This will prevent new account fraud. The only effective way for a fraudster to attack you at this point would be through your current credit accounts.
|Place a fraud alert on your credit file.
|To place a fraud alert, request with one of the three bureaus. The notified bureau will inform the others. You can place a 90-day fraud alert under the suspicion of identity theft. If you ever get an FTC Identity Theft Affidavit, you can place an extended 7-year fraud alert.
|This will put a ‘red flag’ on your credit file to warn creditors that your information might have been compromised. However, it will not guarantee that your information will only get passed to creditors by you. Learn more about a fraud alert.
|Subscribe to an identity theft protection plan.
|Join trusted ID theft protection companies. Review the best identity theft protection companies of February 2024 and choose one to join.
|You will get notified if there are any signs of identity theft. This includes potential account and information compromises. A good ID protection plan will also include identity theft insurance or a service guarantee; this helps a lot as you become liability-free.
|Subscribe to a credit monitoring plan.
|Join a credit monitoring service with instant alerts and tri-bureau credit monitoring, reports, and scores. Some of the best ID protection companies offer credit monitoring too! Review our best credit monitoring companies of February 2024 list to find one for you.
|A credit monitoring service ‘catches people at the door’ trying to break in, while ID protection detects them post-entry. A quality credit monitoring plan will ensure any slight signs of ID theft are caught and acted on right away.
|Create a backup of your wallet contents.
|Make a chart listing all your credit cards, identification cards, and other identifying and valuable possessions in your purse or wallet. Make sure to note the phone number/web page to report each card as lost or stolen.
|Note: If your passport was lost or stolen, you need to report it to the U.S. Department of State. This will give you something to fall back on if you become an identity theft victim. You will know what needs to be deactivated and where you need to contact.
|Make sure you’re not a data breach victim.
|Go to HaveIBeenPwned and check for your email address to see if you’re listed in any data breaches / online pastes. After searching for your email, click ‘Notify me when I get pwned’ to receive alerts whenever your info gets compromised.
|Millions of Americans have had their identity compromised without knowing it. HaveIBeenPwned will show you if any of your emails link to compromised website accounts. You know what to do from there!
|Start using safer payment methods online.
|Use Bitcoin, virtual gift cards, prepaid credit cards, and/or virtual wallets (ex. PayPal, Google Pay) to pay for stuff online. Avoid using your credit card directly as much as possible!
|The fewer places you put your credit card credentials (number, expiry, and CVC), the better. When you can pay through a third-party processor, it’s better that way instead of your credit card issuer.
|Shred any unneeded sensitive papers.
|Shred sensitive documents whenever you are certain they are no longer needed. When buying a paper shredder, make sure it’s powerful enough to shred plastic cards too.
|All you need is a shredder (unless you burn it!), and you have the power to destroy sensitive documents at any time. Take advantage of this power because you never know when your papers or home will get compromised.
|Avoid digitally storing sensitive information.
|Pick up an external hard drive or a USB stick to store your confidential data. Whenever you process important data, save it to upload it from your external device; copy what you currently have stored after you get it.
|Your computer (and cloud storage accounts!) makes it too easy for risky information to get archived and forgotten about. Having it all stored in an offline device is the safest way to go.
|Get a free copy of your credit report.
|Go to AnnualCreditReport and request your free annual credit report from Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion You can check all your reports at once or space them out to get one report every four months.
|This is just to make sure your identity hasn’t already been stolen.
If you invest in a good credit monitoring service, you won’t need to worry about this; most give quarterly or monthly reports from all three bureaus. Note: AnnualCreditReport is the only website authorized by the US government to deliver the free annual credit report.
We have even gone as far as to break up our advice into sections, in case you want to jump to some tips that are more likely to help you:
Without further ado, here’s our ultimate list of identity theft prevention tips!
Anyone can become an identity theft victim. It takes a lot of work to ensure your identity is as safe as it can be. So, let’s look at how to prevent identity theft completely in the easiest ways possible. The following tips will apply to all, regardless of age and profession.
Some people just wait until the damage is done to put a credit freeze on their credit file. This is not a mistake you should make; you have the right to request a ‘freeze’ on your file at any time. By doing so, you will make it so that you are required to verify (by phone) whenever you want your credit file to be shared with a specific party. This remains active until it is reversed.
Aside from the credit freeze, there’s also a ‘fraud alert’ that can be placed on your credit report. This will notify lenders that your identity might have been compromised. This is a way of warning creditors to be weary when dealing with your info. It does not prevent any new or current lenders from pulling your file, but it’s always good to have — especially if your information has actually been stolen.
A lot goes into making sure your identity stays safe. The different protective layers necessary are varied and many. Your age, household status, and workplace can be what measures you to keep your identity safe. Meanwhile, an identity theft protection service wraps all possible methods of identity protection into one product. This can protect any adult; many top service providers even offer child protection plans for your little ones!
ElitePersonalFinancere reviews various identity theft companies. You can get a full run-through on what’s available by checking out our review piece: the best identity theft protection companies of February 2024.
Identity theft protection services are helpful because they cover almost every possible entry point an identity thief could use. Yet, they do not cover the all-too-important factor of credit protection. People can steal your identity without leaving a trail; instead, the criminal could manipulate your identity to commit credit fraud. To catch this quickly, you need to invest in credit monitoring services.
Supposing you are interested in identity theft services, most big companies offer bundled plans that include credit monitoring. You can check our review of the best credit monitoring services of February 2024 to find the best plans with and without ID protection features.
While you cannot literally back up your wallet (unless we’re talking about Bitcoin wallets!), you can still keep a digital or written copy of everything it contains. When doing this, you should write down the card number, type, and any relevant contact numbers for their support lines. This makes it easier to prevent your identity from getting stolen if your wallet or purse gets lost or taken.
Sounds like a hassle? It has to be because a wallet backup mobile app has security concerns.
Things to list: Credit cards, identification, medical cards, insurance cards, documentation, etc. Anything that reveals your full name, date of birth, current address, Social Security number, or any of your ID numbers should be viewed as dangerous info in the wrong hands!
Pro Tip. If your wallet gets lost or stolen while traveling abroad, you can report it to the Department of State by calling 1-877-487-2778 … this is a government-run organization that can help you, especially if you lost your passport and can’t get back home.
You might have your sensitive information accessible on the Web, yet you just don’t know it. The damage could happen right after it gets released or months to years later. For instance, you could be one of the many million Americans who had their data breached in a website hack. This has happened on big sites like Ashley Madison, LinkedIn, MySpace, VK.com, and many others.
There is an easy way to see if your information is out on the loose. Just go to HaveIBeenPwned and search for your email address to find out.
If your information is on the loose:
If your information isn’t out on the World Wide Web:
Take it a step further and set up alerts, so you can find out instantly if your sensitive data reaches the Web!
To subscribe, just select the “Notify me when I get pwned” button after searching for your email address. Then go to your email and confirm your subscription, and you’ll be good to go.
Paying through PayPal gives you extra security, as the recipient does not receive your credit card information. Yet, you can go further by using an online wallet like Google Pay or even Bitcoin to secure your payment credentials. The alternative payment world is growing, and soon there will be no reliance on the old card payment system. This is something you should always keep an eye on because the flawed state of today’s credit world desperately needs to be fixed.
So if you are paying by credit card, your best bet is to first look for the option to pay via PayPal with your card. To do this, you need to look for the following option:
You should get into the habit of shredding your unneeded paperwork regularly. A paper shredder is not a big investment. Plus, you might even have the option of enjoying the departure of your bills and other nuisances by burning them in a fire pit. Either way, the point is that you do not want your personally identifying information to make it into the trash.
Seriously, shred your paperwork – previous statistics show that as much as 88% of stolen personal identifying information came from criminals rooting through the trash.
Again, another simple item from an office supply store or your nearest Walmart would be this:
What to shred?
It’s often necessary to store personal files on the computer, especially when building spreadsheets for tax purposes. Most information is never reviewed again and could just be deleted from your computer after being used the first time. If you are weary, just get a USB stick to store your personal documents on. You do not want to store personal information over the long term on your main computer, as it essentially becomes a treasure chest for hackers.
Invest in one of these to store your important stuff (and not cloud storage, the most breachable storage ever!):
USB stick that works too!
If you are not proactive with tracking your credit file, now would be a good time to start. This means more than just getting credit monitoring assistance; take the time to obtain and review your credit report. Look for any discrepancies, stuff that looks inaccurate or fraudulent, and make the error known to the credit report bureaus.
Be careful, as information must also match your credit reports from the three main bureaus, including Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
You can easily obtain your credit report for free through AnnualCreditReport once a year. If you space out your requests by the bureau, you can get one of your reports every four months of the year.
It sounds like common sense, but more often than not, victims put themselves in that position. We covered how social media helped identity thieves, and the exemplified cases would astound you in a recent post. Some were so unacknowledged that they shared their credit card, social security number, and even bank checks on the Web.
It does not matter if you use Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. You should not ever assume that your personal information is private. Even in your private inbox, if a hacker ever breaks in, there could be endless identifying details about yourself that were not deleted. So, don’t just use common sense. Go the extra mile and keep your private stuff to yourself!
We’ll cover more advanced tips on protecting your social accounts later in this guide, in our section on protecting your identity online.
In the identity theft world, any details a criminal can use to target you are personal identification information. This includes details like your banking information, credit card details, driver’s license and health card numbers, and your social security number. In most cases, the person or website requesting it does not need the information.
You can be your own judge, as it’s often obvious when your information should be given out. If it’s just to hook up a cell phone, your social security number is not necessary. If a credit check is ever required, you should be able to please the other party enough with a valid photo ID and one other credit card. Basically, to prevent identity theft, social security number is something you should never give out.
Also, maintain a list (with dates) to track when and to whom you gave any personal identifying information. This makes it a lot easier to find the culprit if you ever become the victim of identity theft.
Many free anti-virus programs work well, whether you run a Chromebook, Mac, or Windows computer. Download one and make sure you keep your computer child-safe if there are children in your home. For example, if all your kids are young, make it so the administrator’s password must be entered to download anything. Further, maintain any personal documents on an administrator account and ensure no one has access to it.
The last important paid service to make sure you have is bank monitoring. This consists of setting up alerts that trigger once your bank accounts are potentially used fraudulently. You cannot find this level of protection in every identity theft + credit monitoring package.
Any public wireless network, such as at a hotel or restaurant, should be used with caution. As open networks are easier to hack into, it’s possible that a criminal could gain access to your computer, smartphone, or tablet. As such, you should not ever use a public network for online banking and payments or for any other accounts that involve your personal details. Plus, make sure you always delete the browsing history and cookies after using a guest computer or network.
Investing in a PO Box at your local post office is a great idea. This way, you do not have to worry about who sees your mail. There are no longer concerns of a neighbor or random person intercepting postage that contains personal identifying information. After all, stealing mail is one of the most common ways thieves get the information they need. It might be a bit of a pain, but considering the sensitive information that comes through the mail, it’s a smart investment.
Don’t know about PO boxes? They’re at your local post office and probably cost around $3 to $20 a month. So why not?
It’s a good idea to purchase a safe for your personal items, whether they are documents or fine jewelry. A simple yet crack-proof and fire-resistant safe is best, and they do not run much more than $100 at entry-level. You can use this to keep any sensitive items, such as your passport and your social security card. This is especially valuable if you ever have a babysitter or cleaner in your home or if you just have many people passing through over time.
Never donate a penny by phone. Always make sure to check the charity’s BBB rating and search online for terms like “charity name + forum” and “charity name + scam” to get an idea of the charity’s legitimacy. While many are trustworthy, some are just looking to pocket your cash. Fraudulent organizations will also take your personal information and credit card details to commit identity fraud in the worst cases.
It’s important to secure both your and your children’s identities. After all, the estimate is 10.7% of minors have had their social security number used without their knowledge. This could be done by a relative trying to hook up utilities after getting cut off on their own or for financial gain. Regardless, an identity theft add-on for minors will ensure your children’s identity stays safe.
College students are hot targets because it’s easy to victimize them. Think about it. Even your roommate’s mother could blindside you. With a not-so-private home life on campus and with so many people knowing so much about you, it’s clear you make a juicy target.
Before getting into our student-based tips, you might want to read our post on everything students have to know about identity theft before proceeding.
If you are a college student, here are 20 ways to prevent identity theft from impacting you.
It’s normal to get help from your parents to finance school, qualify for loans, etc. If your parents helped you, then there should be some sort of paper trail. All these documents need to be kept hidden and secure. If they end up in the wrong hands, your parents could also become identity theft victims.
You should not assume your documents are safe when living on campus. Find a hiding spot, get a storage unit or locker, or just leave your paperwork with a trusted relative. You already expose enough about yourself during the length of your course. It could just be a matter of a criminal seeing the right piece of paper to complete the puzzle, making you their victim. Remember, even paperwork like your school grades could include your social security number.
There is a growing crackdown on the way student identification numbers are generated. In previous years, many schools would take the student’s social security number and add a character. This means that everyone could gain access to each other social security numbers without even having to make any real effort. This might not apply to you, but check to see if your student ID matches up to your social security number at all. If it does, make sure to keep your card on lockdown or request a different number.
It’s easy to let information slip when you have a roommate, professor, and school full of people you trust. But, it’s not always necessary to give up your private information. You do not need to hand over personal identifying information by phone. Make sure anything you give out is in person, and understand why it’s being recorded. Also, be cautious about what you include when inquiring to the school by e-mail. After all, something as simple as a server breach could reveal all your personal details to the intruder.
You might not feel important enough to bother with paying for a PO box. That’s okay. You can still protect your mail from unwanted eyes by redirecting it home. Either that or list your address with “In the care of” marked for the respective recipient. If you get many emails, or if your school is in a different city, then a PO box might be worth the investment.
As a student, you will connect to public Wi-Fi networks regularly. This puts your computer at increased risk of getting attacked. As such, your school computer should not contain any sensitive information about you. The easiest way to ensure safety is by incorporating these:
It’s generally a good idea to put a ‘credit freeze’ on your credit report. Students will find even more benefit from doing so, as they are less likely to use their credit. The credit freeze will trigger a verification call if your name is ever used towards a new credit line. For better results, you can get a ‘security freeze,’ which goes a step further and factors in a verification code or PIN to approve any credit changes.
Read here and learn how to freeze your credit report.
You can also read up on the costs and laws by state here to figure out what to expect if you plan to place a security freeze on your file.
It’s easy to feel the need to help your roommate with simple issues like qualifying for a new cell phone. But, you must understand that now is not the time to take on any liabilities on your credit file. The risks are too high, and you will be the first debt they ignore when things go sour. Plus, if you get a paper bill for their utility, that could be used towards opening fraudulent credit lines in your name.
Once again, helping a roommate or school friend does not seem like a big problem. But, if you let them use your ID cards at any point, this could be a spell for disaster. For instance, if they get stopped by the police or arrested, your ID could get used, and your record would become tarnished.