20 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft

ID theft has tripled since 2018 — are you doing enough to protect yourself from identity theft?

Identity theft is on the rise. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), cybercriminals didn’t take time off during the pandemic — they doubled down their ID theft efforts. In fact, the FTC’s 2020 Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book reports that identity theft has tripled from 2018 to 2020. There’s no sign that cybercriminals will slow down in 2021, so unless you’re taking precautions to protect your identity online, you’re vulnerable.

20 Tips to Prevent Identity Theft

Identity theft can happen anywhere and at any time. From raiding your garbage for sensitive documents to launching sophisticated phishing attacks against you online, cybercriminals stop at nothing to steal and exploit your information. By following these tips to prevent identity theft, you can minimize your vulnerability.

1. Remove Your Personal Information from the Internet
People-search sites gather as much personal information on you as possible and publish it in a profile. They’re like online marketplaces for anyone who wants to know more about you including cybercriminals. At a glance, anyone knows who you are, where you work, how to contact you, where you live, and a lot more. To keep private and prevent ID theft, we recommend opting out of these sites as soon as possible. You can do it by hand using our free manual opt-out instructions, or you can use OneRep to remove yourself from over 100 people-search sites immediately.

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2. Get an IRS Identity Protection (IP) PIN
SSNs are gold for cybercriminals — these highly personal numbers could be the key to unlock your most sensitive accounts, and they even let criminals claim your tax returns. If you believe that your SSN has been compromised, get an IP PIN. This will secure your tax return behind a unique number that only you and the IRS know.
3. Create Strong Randomized Passwords
Cybercriminals use high-powered computer programs to crack passwords. They often start with a list of the most common passwords, and sometimes they even scrape data breaches for your previous compromised passwords. The only thing in their way is a long, complicated password that’s completely randomized. This is key to protect your identity online.
4. Use Two Factor Authentication
Two-factor authentication (2FA) protects your accounts when criminals have your passwords. When you enable 2FA, all new login attempts will need to be verified by you via a unique code only you can access. After all, one data breach can make your strong password meaningless.
5. Protect Your Mail
Online privacy may be the new frontier of identity theft, but plenty of thieves use other tried-and-true methods like stealing your mail from your mailbox or garbage. All it takes is one sensitive document that you forgot to shred — so get your mail on time and shred all sensitive documents. 
6. Use Security Monitoring Tools
You can’t be everywhere at once. There are plenty of great ID theft protection services that will constantly monitor your credit and send you notices about suspicious activity — so you can stop things before they get out of hand. Related:LifeLock and Norton 360 with LifeLock Review                 IDShield vs. LifeLock Identity Theft Protection Review: Which Is Best For You?
7. Go Private on Social Media
Cybercriminals can glean a lot of information from a public account, and many data brokers scrape these accounts to fill out their profiles on you. If you’re wondering how to protect yourself from identity theft, this is a great preventative measure.
8. Never Overshare
Even if your social media accounts are private, it only takes one convincing “friend request” to give an imposter access to your personal information. Play it safe; never share overly personal information, such as where you live, where you’re going at a certain time or photos revealing your address or license plate number. Related: Social Media Privacy: How to Stay Safe on Social Media
9. Watch Out for Social Engineering
One of the easiest ways for cybercriminals to access your information is social engineering. They might pretend to be a family member, a coworker, or a close friend. To protect your identity online, never give personal details out over text, chat, or email.
10. Review Your Credit Report
Every year, the three credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion and Experian) give you free access to your credit report. Check it to make sure there aren’t suspicious accounts open, and check existing accounts for signs of fraud. Prevention is the best way to protect yourself from identity theft.
11. Be Careful with Public Wi-Fi
Never visit sensitive sites on public wi-fi — a cybercriminal could be lurking on the network, watching what you do to take your credentials. Unless you’re using a VPN, don’t make online transactions or log in to important accounts in coffee shops, airports, or other common public wi-fi locations.
12. Set Up Alerts on Important Accounts
Setting up alerts for sensitive activity and keep you informed about suspicious behavior in real-time. Most financial institutions have options to receive notifications when transactions are made or when new login attempts are detected. Always turn these on.
13. Go Paperless
When it comes to sensitive documents, like utility bills or bank and brokerage statements, it’s time to go paperless. Log into your accounts, hook up your email, and turn off paper mail. This will prevent thieves from intercepting those documents.
14. Check Your Financial Statements
Make it a point to review your financial statements as they become available. A quick scan for suspicious activity is all it takes to rest easy — or catch identity theft early.
15. Never Click Strange Links
If you get a strange text, email, or chat message containing a link, never click it. Even if the message has the trappings of a real company, the link may bring you to malware or a false webpage used to steal your login credentials. See also: Phishing Emails: What They Are, How to Spot a Phishing Email and How to Protect Yourself 
16. Check for Card Skimming
Some criminals “skim” credit card information via small devices at gas pumps, ATMs, or other unmanned stations. To play it extra safe, pay at manned pay stations, which are less likely to be chipped.
17.Consider a Digital Wallet
Carrying around physical cards could leave you vulnerable to ID theft if they’re dropped or stolen. Consider a digital wallet, which saves your cards on your phone and encrypts transactions. Just make sure you enable 2FA. Otherwise, a digital wallet could become a master key to your finances.
18. Keep Your SSN Safe
Your SSN could be exploited to claim tax returns, open lines of credit, and sometimes even access sensitive accounts. Whenever you’re asked for your SSN, ask why it’s necessary and if another form of identification can be provided instead.  See also: How Do I Find Out if Someone is Using My Social Security Number and How Do I Stop Them from Using It?
19. Protect Your Phone
If someone gets a hold of your phone, they can do a lot of damage. Many people are auto-logged into their bank, brokerage, and social media apps. If your phone doesn’t have any security settings enabled, a thief could easily take over your identity and finances. Lock it down, preferable with the fingerprint option.
20. Freeze Your Credit
Freezing your credit may seem like an extreme measure but it can prevent identity thieves from opening up new lines of credit or committing other financial crimes. If you go for it, make sure you freeze your credit with all three major credit bureaus. And remember, this measure is particularly effective if you want to protect your identity after your Social Security number (SSN) has been exposed. 

Wrapping it up…

Cybercriminals may be getting more sophisticated, but so are the rest of us. By knowing how to protect yourself and maintain your privacy, you can worry less and enjoy the best of your on- and offline activities.

Your privacy matters. Let us help.

OneRep offers its members continuous monitoring and automated removal of their private information from the web.

Maria Shishkova

Digital Marketer & Privacy Expert  at OneRep | LinkedIn