How Do I Protect My Identity?
While it is hard to prevent identity theft, there are many proven ways to reduce your chances of becoming the next identity theft victim. Below are some general tips for protecting your identity, along with resources to help you avoid some of the most common identity theft situations.
Note: Some people opt to use identity theft protection services to help secure and monitor their accounts. These services can provide added convenience and peace of mind, but not all are created equal. Before you pay for a subscription, check out the Federal Trade Commission’s advice on identity protection services.
General Identity Theft Prevention Tips
Use strong passwords. Create passwords that employ a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. Steer clear of obvious passwords—never use your birth date, mother’s maiden name, or the last four digits of your Social Security number.
Lock up your records. Keep any financial documents and records containing your sensitive information in a secure place in your home or office. Try to avoid carrying around items that contain your personal information. For digital records, consider the use of encrypted storage drives or password-protected files.
Shred sensitive documents. Tear, cut up, or shred sensitive materials, such as old records, files, bills, prescription labels, or expired credit cards before disposing of them. Once information leaves your hands, there’s no way of knowing who may get their hands on it.
Secure your wireless network. Like public or shared computers, unprotected wireless networks can put sensitive information in jeopardy. Make sure your wireless network at home is protected with a strong password, the default administrator username has been changed, and turn on Wireless Network Encryption if available.
Lock your computer. If you are using a computer at your office or in a public place, make sure to lock it before you walk away to safeguard any personal information stored on the computer.
Protect against viruses. Regularly update anti-virus protection software on your computer. In addition, keep your computer system and browser up to date and set at the highest security level.
Double-check mailings. Always make sure that documents aren’t stuck together and that the recipient’s information is correct before sending any personally identifiable information or PII.
Keep your emails safe. Avoid sending any sensitive information via email. If you absolutely have to use email to send personal data, consider purchasing encryption software. Encrypting emails is the only way to ensure that the information you are sending is received securely.
Use social media responsibly. Assume that anything you post online can be accessed by anyone. An identity thief can use the information he or she learns about you on social media sites to answer “challenge” questions and potentially gain access to your personal accounts. Monitor your privacy settings and consider limiting access to your page to a small number of people.
A VPN for public networks. Consider purchasing and using a reputable Virtual Private Network (VPN) software to use while online using public networks. VPNs provide an additional layer of security for you and your information while using potentially unsafe internet connections.
Additional Identity Theft Resources
- Protecting Yourself Against Identity Theft and Fraud Fact Sheet
- 10 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft | ID Theft Guide | U.S. News
- Identity Theft | USAGov
- What To Know About Identity Theft | FTC Consumer Information
- How to Protect Your Identity While Shopping Online - Experian
- How to Teach Your Child About Identity Theft - Experian
- How to Prevent Identity Theft While Traveling - Experian
- Teaching Your Kids About Internet Safety | Equifax®
- Tips to Secure Identity While Traveling | American Family Insurance (amfam.com)
- Tips and Advice to prevent Identity Theft happening to you | Europol (europa.eu)
Identity Theft Prevention Tips for Traveling
Traveling offers identity thieves plenty of opportunity to steal your information. Hotel rooms, airplanes and trains, public internet access – all can be problematic if you let your privacy guard down. Following are successful strategies for safeguarding your identity when away from home.
Clean out your wallet. Before you travel, plan to carry only the necessities for your trip and nothing extra. This way, if your wallet gets misplaced or stolen during your travels, you will have reduced the number of things that need to be replaced, as well as the amount of personal information that could be at risk.
Copy and disperse copies of your identification. Don’t keep all of your identification or important documents in one location while you’re traveling. Carry a photocopy of your passport in a different bag than your actual passport in case your passport gets lost or stolen during your trip. Having a photocopy and another form of identification available will be important in the event that a passport needs to be replaced.
Lock up any valuables. If you’re staying in a hotel, do not leave valuables or personal information out in the open. Be sure they are placed in your room’s safe. If you room does not have a safe, ask the hotel to lock up your valuables at the front desk. It is prudent to do this even if you are only going out for a few hours.
Sign out of your accounts. When you’re traveling away from home, you might end up using a public computer at a hotel to check into your flight or to check your email. Make sure to sign out of any programs or accounts you use on public or shared computers before you walk away. Forgetting to do so can mean the next user can have access to your personal information.
Be aware of your belongings. As tempting as it may be to rest your eyes on a plane, train, or bus, make sure you are vigilant about your belongings and your surroundings when using public transportation. Falling asleep could make you a potential target for theft.
Keep laptops and other devices close. The airport security conveyor belt is a common place for laptop theft. Only place your computer on the belt when you are next in line, and always keep your eyes on it.
Write down important contact information. Keep a written copy or photocopy of important contact information, including your credit card company’s phone number, with you while you travel. If you lose your card, you will want to inform your creditor as soon as possible.
Identity Theft Prevention Tips for Parents
We live in the age of screens. Between online shopping and gaming, streaming video and music, and virtual schooling, today’s children are spending significant time on a smartphone or computer. Setting boundaries for online activities and teaching children how to protect sensitive information is a must.
Children in Elementary School (Ages 5-10)
Start the conversation. Ask questions to establish your child’s understanding of computers, the capabilities of the Internet, and what is considered personal information. Fill in any gaps in understanding that they have. Emphasize that they should never give out any information online – just as you would tell them not to talk to strangers).
Establish the rules. Pick a list of appropriate websites, games, and other programs. Use parental controls to limit access and block inappropriate sites.
Monitor their playtime. Keep a close eye on what programs your child is using to ensure they aren’t unknowingly providing any personal information. Avoid sharing your passwords with your children to maintain control over what they can access and prevent accidental online purchases.
Children in Middle School and High School (Ages 11-18)
Continue the dialogue. Maintain a dialogue about how they use the Internet as they start to buy things online and use social media. Explain how to keep their information safe when making purchases. If they are using your credit card to purchase things online, they are potentially putting your information at risk.
Keep an eye on social media. Establish ground rules on what information is and isn’t okay to share via social media, regardless of the site. Have them set their profiles to the “private” setting, and make sure they are only interacting with people they know.
Teach cell phone safety. Talk to them about screening phone calls from unknown numbers, locking their phone with a password, and only downloading apps from known sources.
Identity Theft Prevention Tips for Online Shopping
There were approximately 256 million digital buyers in the US during 2020 – about 88 percent of the adult population. This number is projected to climb even more, reaching an expected 263.01 million in 2021 and 278.3 million in 2024. Growing use means increased opportunity for identity theft. The following are recommended strategies for shopping safely online.
Don’t be fooled by spam. We all enjoy finding a bargain, but don’t be fooled by spam emails offering great deals or claiming they support good causes. If it seems too good to be true it probably is. Responding to or clicking on any link within an unsolicited email or pop-up box can put your personal information in jeopardy.
Give your debit card a break. Be especially wary of using your debit card when shopping online. If an identity thief gets hold of your debit card information, he or she can drain your bank account or open new accounts in your name. If you have a credit card, use it instead. Credit cards typically provide added protection against fraudulent charges.
Be cautious when downloading mobile applications. Mobile apps often take more data from you than they need, either for their own use or to sell to third parties. To prevent your information from getting into the wrong hands, only download applications from official app stores and check other users’ reviews, as well as the app’s privacy policies, before downloading.
Use a variety of passwords. If you use the same password for all of your online activities, and an identity thief uncovers it, he or she could have access to your bank, email, and other personal accounts. As you shop at different online retailers, choose a different password for each new account that you create. Also, avoid using your name or the names of family members in your password. Social media has made those passwords even easier to crack.