Frontwave Blog

10 Tips for Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft

Identity theft can happen to anyone. With the rise of data breaches and card fraud in recent years, it’s become an unfortunate fact of modern life. But there’s a lot you can do to help protect yourself. Check out these 10 tips for reducing your risk of identity theft:

1. Limit who you share personal information with.

It only takes a few pieces of information, such as your name, address and a credit card number, for an identity thief to get started. To help keep your information from falling into the wrong hands, make sure you only share it on a need-to-know basis. Before you provide information to your employer, a business, your child's school or a doctor's office, ask why they need it, how they will safeguard it, and the consequences of not sharing.

2. Be alert to impersonators.

Make sure you know who’s getting your personal or financial information. Don’t give this information out over the phone, or via text, email or the Internet unless you’ve initiated the contact and know who you’re dealing with. Be sure to know the warning signs of common phishing scams — and how to avoid becoming a victim.

3. Safeguard personal records and documents.

Keep your important documents like bank statements, birth certificates and medical records locked in a safe place at home. When you go out, limit what you carry. Take only the identification and cards (credit, debit, medical, etc.) you need. Never carry your Social Security card in your wallet or purse.

4. Safely dispose of personal information.

Shred receipts, credit offers, credit applications, insurance forms, bank statements, expired credit and debit cards, and similar items when you don’t need them anymore. Also destroy the labels on prescription bottles before you throw them away. Before you trade-in, recycle or sell a computer or mobile device, get rid of all the personal stored on it. Check your owner’s manual or the device manufacturer’s website for information on how to delete information permanently.

5. Keep online data secure.

Never share personal or financial information online unless it’s 100% necessary and sent through an encrypted site. Encryption “scrambles” your data when it’s transmitted, which means it can’t be read by anyone other than the intended recipient. Look for a “lock” icon in the address bar of your internet browser before you enter your address, credit card number or any other personal details. The lock means your information will be kept secure when it’s transmitted.

6. Use strong passwords.

Protect your digital devices and online accounts with strong passwords. Be creative: think of a special phrase and use the first letter of each word as your password. Substitute numbers for some words or letters. For example, “I want to see the Pacific Ocean” could become 1W2CtPo. Never share your password with anyone else.

7. Don’t overshare on social media.

If you post too much information about yourself, an identity thief could use the details you’ve shared to answer “challenge” questions on your accounts and gain access to your money and personal information. Consider keeping your page private and only “friending” or “following” people you know in real life. Never post your full address, phone number, Social Security number or account numbers on social media.

8. Be wise about Wi-Fi.

Don’t access your bank accounts or send personal information over an unsecured public wireless network in a coffee shop, library, airport, hotel or other public place. Even if you use an encrypted website, it protects only the information you send to and from that site — not the entire network.

9. Look into a credit monitoring service.

There are different options, but in general, a credit monitoring service will track your credit report at one or more of the major credit bureaus and report certain activities, such as a company checking your credit, a new loan being opened in your name or a lender reporting a late payment. If you spot suspicious activity or incorrect reporting, you can take steps to resolve the problem before it grows. You may be eligible for free credit monitoring if you’ve been a victim of a recent data breach. Some credit cards and insurance plans may also offer free or discounted services.

10. Consider adding Fraud Alert to your credit report.

A Fraud Alert will protect your credit from unverified access for one year. This can give you an extra layer of protection if you’re concerned about identity theft due to a data breach, lost wallet, or other lost or stolen personal information. To request a Fraud Alert, contact one of the three major credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian or Trans Union. The bureau you contact will then contact the other credit reporting bureaus on your behalf.

Bonus tip for Service members: If you’re being deployed, consider placing an Active Duty Alert on your credit report. This will require businesses to take extra steps before granting credit in your name. Active Duty Alerts last for one year, and can be renewed to match the period of deployment. Contact one of the three major credit bureaus (see above) to request an Active Duty Alert. The alert will automatically be added to your credit report with the other credit bureaus.
Want to learn more about protecting yourself from identity theft and fraud? Check out one of our upcoming fraud prevention workshops.