Identity theft is increasingly becoming a huge problem in the USA and across the globe. Scammers are coming up with more ways to steal personal and financial information for personal gain.
This issue has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, as fraudsters steal identities to make fake unemployment insurance claims under the COVID-19 economic stimulus package.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) notes that there were close to 1.4 million cases of identity theft in the USA in 2020. This is more than double the figure for 2019.
Therefore, now, more than ever, you need to take the necessary steps for preventing identity theft. Here’s how you can do that.
Adopt Safe Password Practices
One of the most common methods tech-savvy identity thieves use to access consumers’ personal information is by hacking their passwords. You should, therefore, ensure to set strong passwords for your email, social media accounts, online accounts, and PC/mobile devices.
Avoid basic passwords that are easy to figure out. These include passwords that contain your name or year of birth. Ideally, you should aim for passwords that contain a mixture of alphabets, numerals, and symbols. These are harder to decode. Also, ensure the passwords are at least 15 characters for good measure.
Another common mistake most people make in regards to passwords is to use one password across all their accounts and devices. This means that if a fraudster figures out the password, they have access to all of the victim’s personal and financial information.
To avoid this, use a password manager tool to obtain ideas for passwords, and create different passwords that you can access using a single passphrase.
Update your Antivirus Software
Does your browser constantly redirect you to websites that you didn’t search for? Finding yourself bombarded with unsolicited pop-up ads every time you’re browsing the web? If you’re wondering how to stop these potential sources of malware infection, the answer is installing antivirus software.
If you don’t have antivirus software installed on your PC/mobile/tablet device, invest in one now! And if you have the antivirus installed already, consider updating it to the latest available version. A good antivirus package will protect you from spyware, ransomware, and fake websites.
Premium antivirus tools also offer firewall protection and remote access shields to prevent unauthorized access to your device or private network.
Enable Two-Factor Authentication
To better protect sensitive data such as your Social Security Number and credit information, consider enabling two-factor authentication across all platforms.
Two-step authentication provides an extra layer of security reinforcement on top of your password. Implementing it makes the work of hackers twice as difficult, thus minimizing the chances of unauthorized access to your personal information.
After keying in your password, the second stage of the verification process entails entering a passcode sent to your device via SMS, or a Google authenticator prompt.
It’s hard for hackers to have the correct information for this second verification stage, even if they have your password.
Shred Old Documents Containing Personal Information
While dumpster diving might seem like an old-school way of stealing someone’s data, you’ll be surprised that some fraudsters still rely on this method. As such, avoid dumping old documents that contain your bank account information or social security number in the bin.
Instead, shred such forms to completely get rid of such information. Be on the lookout for ‘shred-a-thon’ events in your local area. Such events are usually organized by banking organizations to encourage safe disposal of banking documents containing customers’ banking details.
Secure your Records
Always keep personal information documents such as medical records and credit cards safely tucked away inside a safe. This is especially important if you have people constantly coming into your office or home.
Also, always ensure to pick up incoming mail as soon as possible. Some identity frauds access data from the victims’ home mailboxes. Finally, keep your banking cards safely stored inside your wallet to avoid forgetting them in public spaces like restaurants.
Watch Out for Data Breaches
Sometimes, it could be that your workplace’s information database has been breached by hackers. Company intranets typically contain employees’ personal details that identity thieves can use for their own gain.
As such, as soon as you find out there’s been a data breach at your place of work, take the necessary steps. This includes changing your account passwords.
If your social security number was exposed during the data breach, consider freezing your credit file. Fraudsters can use such information to create new accounts, with your persona, ruining your credit score in the process.
Fortunately, credit bureaus provide options for users to freeze their credit accounts via web, mail, and telephone.
Adopt Safe Social Media Practices
More often than not, fraudsters don’t even have to go through the trouble of hacking through your PC’s firewall to access your personal information. They simply head to your social media accounts and gather whatever kind of personal information that they find to be useful.
It’s, thus, crucial to avoid oversharing on social media. Sensitive information that identity thieves might collect from posts on your Facebook or Instagram accounts includes your home address, phone number, or official email address.
Preventing Identity Theft by Staying Vigilant
The final, and arguably the best way to protect your identity from being stolen is by always being vigilant when using the web or your PC/mobile device. You may receive phishing emails asking you to click on certain suspicious links.
However, nothing bad will happen so long as you don’t click on such suspicious links.
Meanwhile, if you receive suspicious calls from someone claiming to be from your banking company, avoid revealing your personal/banking details to them.
Always confirm that the request is legitimate by calling the company back on an official number listed on their official website. Finally, we recommend monitoring credit reports regularly for any suspicious transactions.
Protect Yourself From Fraudsters Today
The consequences of identity theft are numerous. You could end up taking a hit on your credit reputation or even lose enormous amounts of money in your banking accounts.
To prevent this, take the necessary preventive measures for protecting data online and preventing identity theft. These include adopting safe password practices, freezing your credit account, and being vigilant in online spaces.
However, if your identity has already been stolen and you’ve suffered any of the aforementioned consequences, consider hiring a credible identity theft lawyer to protect your rights through litigation.