Identity Theft: 10 Ways to Protect Yourself

identity theft

Identity theft is becoming a common occurrence and just thinking about it scares me. Identity theft happens when someone uses your personal information to commit fraudulent acts or crimes. Identity theft can happen whether the stolen identity is that of a living or deceased person.

People who wrongfully use another person’s information such as name, address, social security number or credit card number to purchase items or property, get loans, credit, or services, are committing identity fraud. Fraudsters can use someone else’s information to obtain official documents such as government-issued IDs or passports, open accounts, take over accounts, obtain loans or government benefits, and procure goods and services.

Identity theft can greatly affect the victim’s finances and even reputation. The fraud victim can have a hard time getting credit cards, mortgages or loans, and it can take years to clear his or her name.

Protecting Yourself Against Identity Theft

Identity theft can be a terrifying and stressful experience and sometimes it can take months or years before victims find out about it. Even with today’s technology and advanced security measures, anyone can still be at risk of identity theft. The best thing to do is to be vigilant about protecting your information. Here are ten ways to protect yourself against identity theft and fraud.

Be careful when throwing away papers or documents that have your personal information on them.

If you have a shredder, by all means shred them. If you don’t, you can simply tear them up into small pieces before throwing them away. Instead of throwing away receipts or documents in public places, consider taking them with you and disposing of them when you get home.

Secure papers and documents.

Lock your mailbox. Hide your papers and documents in a safe and secure place at home. If you have personal documents at your office, keep them in a locked drawer.

Secure your computer or online accounts.

Encrypt your computer and digital files with secure passwords—meaning, passwords that are unique and are composed of a combination of letters, numbers and symbols. Be careful about saving passwords on your personal computer. Definitely do not save your passwords on public computers.

Secure your financial accounts.

Keep a record and monitor your transactions and watch out for suspicious transactions.

Take advantage of email or text alerts from your credit card company or bank so that you’ll be notified of large purchases or if your balance has reached a certain amount. You can also consider credit freezes which seals your files against new creditors.

Review your credit report regularly.

You can order a copy of your credit report twice a year which you can use to check for suspicious transactions.

Be aware of emails notifying you of changes in your accounts or asking you to update your information.

If you don’t remember making changes, report it immediately.

Be aware of phishing emails or fraudulent emails that ask you for personal information. Legitimate firms or companies never ask for your personal information via email.

Be careful of phone calls from individual or companies you don’t know.

Sometimes you may receive calls from people that claim they are phoning from your bank or credit card company, and they will begin asking you a series of questions. Never give out personal information to callers you do not know.

You can check the validity of the caller by calling them back at the number that you have for that company. For example, if someone calls and says they are from your bank and they want you to give them a bunch of information, ask for their name and say you will call them back.

Be careful when putting any information on documents or on the Internet.

Don’t write down your account number or personal information just anywhere. Don’t put your credit card number on the Internet unless it’s encrypted and on a secured site.

Memorize passwords and account numbers if you can.

Be aware of who you deal with.

Make sure you only deal with legitimate companies. Read and understand any contracts or documents before you sign them.

Report any suspicious transactions immediately.

If you notice anything suspicious in your bank statements, credit card transactions or credit report, contact your bank or credit card company immediately.

If you think you are a victim of identity theft, you must act immediately. Report any suspicious transactions to your bank. As well, report lost credit cards, IDs, or passports.


    • Holly@ClubThrifty

      Holly@ClubThrifty 03/19/2013 5:15 a.m. #

      Great tips! I am totally freaked out about getting my identity stolen. It seems like it happens so often these days!!!

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 03/19/2013 4:11 p.m. #

        I agree, it does seem to happen more and more.

    • DC @ Young Adult Money

      DC @ Young Adult Money 03/19/2013 5:16 a.m. #

      This post was a good reminder for me (and others) that you need to be pro-active when it comes to protecting your identity. Nobody thinks it will happen to them and they do nothing to prepare. Before you know it, the damage is done and it could have been prevented by taking some of the steps you lay out. Great post!

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 03/19/2013 4:19 p.m. #

        My husband is quite pro-active in taking steps, more than I've ever been. He shreds all of his bank statements and account statements (when he use to get paper based ones) and any other documents with personal info. I just tear them up a few times and toss them.

    • Money Beagle

      Money Beagle 03/19/2013 6:04 a.m. #

      I was lazy about passwords, where I had a pretty good password, but had the same one for many different accounts. At some point it must have got out, and I had some minor hacks with e-mail and a stray order placed on my Sprint account (that Sprint actually caught before the order shipped), so now I am much more diligent about having unique passwords across different sites.

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 03/19/2013 4:19 p.m. #

        Unique passwords are very important since so much of what we do everyday is online.

    • Corina Ramos

      Corina Ramos 03/19/2013 7:13 a.m. #

      This post is a great reminder about what we need to do to protect our identity. I've never had this happen to me thankfully, but I can only imagine how it must suck to have this happen.

      My sister works at a financial institution and she's mentioned all there is to go through when something like this happens, it's an exhausting process to get your identity back.

      I'm always shredding deposit slips and balance receipts ad I make sure my Norton is renewed every year but the one thing I need to work on is my passwords, they aren't strong enough...should I have said that? LOL...

      Seriously though, with Norton there's a password keeper so I'll definitely take advantage of that and make stronger passwords to protect myself :)

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 03/19/2013 4:22 p.m. #

        I put off using unique passwords for a long time as well Corina, but now I use KeePass and love it! I thought it would take forever for me to enter all of my passwords but it really only took about 30 minutes to setup and enter them all and anytime I sign up for something new I let KeePass generate the new password for me.

    • AverageJoe

      AverageJoe 03/19/2013 7:15 a.m. #

      A hilarious occurrence happened to me a few weeks ago. An attachment was sent with an email from someone I didn't know, so I wrote them back and told them that I wouldn't open an attachment. They wrote back, and it was a letter telling me that a prince in Nigeria had died and left me millions of dollars! That's the funny part (the dude actually wrote back with the spam in non-attachment form). The not-so-funny part: now my "money" is supposedly on it's way, and I'm getting spam about it from many different "officials" telling me I need to act quickly. It's fun for me to watch, but I can see how someone might get sucked down the wrong path by how diligent they are....

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 03/19/2013 4:26 p.m. #

        I've watched many documentaries with stories from real people that have fallen for those schemes and have gone as far as to fly to London England to meet with people and pay them money as part of the way of getting their millions.

    • Debt Roundup

      Debt Roundup 03/19/2013 8:20 a.m. #

      These are all great tips Sicorra. I make sure to always shred anything that I deem personal. I look after my accounts and monitor my credit reports on the regular. It is too easy for people to get your identity and thus your money.

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 03/19/2013 4:27 p.m. #

        Good practices Grayson! Great that you stay on top of those things.

    • CarolB

      CarolB 03/19/2013 9:03 a.m. #

      Hi Siccora, Thanks for the great list. Over the past several years, we've had two separate external accounts hacked - stolen files from our local kids' hospital and a stolen laptop from our insurance company. Thankfully neither one compromised our primary credit or social security information, but still, both were a wake up call to being more diligent about our credit and other personal information.

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 03/19/2013 4:29 p.m. #

        See that is the other thing, sometimes you can do everything you can to protect your own stuff, but then a thief or a hacker can still get to stuff anyways. What makes me nervous all of the information that is on accountants computers across the world. And do they really take the necessary steps to protect their business networks and their laptops that they take from one appointment to another, as well as their email accounts. That scares me when we deal with them.

    • John S @ Frugal Rules

      John S @ Frugal Rules 03/19/2013 9:23 a.m. #

      Great tips Sicorra! Thankfully it's never happened to me, but my best friends wife had her identity stolen a number of years ago and it was an absolute mess.

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 03/19/2013 4:31 p.m. #

        I can only imagine the trouble she went through and how difficult it must have been.

    • krantcents

      krantcents 03/19/2013 11:25 a.m. #

      Good points! Years ago, someone tried to open a credit account in my name. They stole information from an doctor's office and tried to use it. This is another reason to check your credit report periodically.

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 03/19/2013 4:37 p.m. #

        Sorry to hear that! I can easily see how that would happen! There are so businesses that we all deal with on a regular basis, and who have our personal details, but you gotta wonder how secure their computers are and how secure their employees are too.

    • Cat

      Cat 03/19/2013 12:20 p.m. #

      Excellent tips. I just watched "Identity Thief" and the main character definitely didn't heed this tip: Be careful of phone calls from individual or companies you don’t know. :)

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 03/19/2013 4:40 p.m. #

        That show came up when I was researching this post but I didn't check it out. Many years ago my husband received a random phone call from the credit card company he dealt with. They asked him a bunch of questions and then said that they were cancelling his card because some of their account numbers had been compromised and they were just doing it as a precaution. The call came in on a Sunday morning and I didn't believe it was legitimate. I freaked (overly paranoid maybe) and asked my husband to call them back to verify. It all turned out okay.

    • Shannon @ The Heavy Purse

      Shannon @ The Heavy Purse 03/19/2013 12:37 p.m. #

      Great tips! Identity theft scares me too!! One thing I also try to be diligent about is connecting to public wi-fi at coffee shops, etc. I use them, but I'm careful about sites I visit and don't check bank accounts, etc with them.

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 03/19/2013 4:42 p.m. #

        Yes, I am very careful about that as well. I mentioned that in a post I did earlier about passwords and hackers. You never know what the person sitting beside you or even outside of the coffee shop is doing. I use to work with IT guys that could pretty much hack into anything (just for fun, so they said)

    • Paula

      Paula 03/19/2013 7:06 p.m. #

      Good info! Thanks for sharing, I forget sometimes (and when I was working at the bank they drilled a lot of this into our heads!)

    • KK @ Student Debt Survivor

      KK @ Student Debt Survivor 03/20/2013 9:44 a.m. #

      Good tips and a helpful reminder. Bf is pretty good about shredding everything that comes in the mail. But we're particularly careful about credit card offers etc.

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