Big data breaches make headlines more often than we’d like, making it clear that the companies we trust with our information can’t protect us from an attack. That makes it our responsibility to take actions that will help prevent identity theft. Knowing what to look for—and what you can do about it—is the best way to keep your personal data out of the hands of hackers.
What Is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is when someone accesses your personal information and uses it for financial gain. Personal data or financial information that is entered online can be a smorgasbord for identity thieves on the prowl. The stolen information can be anything from your full name and birthdate to your Social Security number and banking information. Identity thieves can use this data to tap into your bank account, open new credit accounts in your name, or charge up your existing credit cards.
How to Spot Identity Theft
The bad news is that identity thieves are sneaky, and identity theft can happen without much fanfare. That’s why it’s important to know what to look for so you can stop identity theft before it takes a big toll on your finances.
Make it a habit to regularly check your credit report, checking and savings account statements, phone bills, utility bills, loan account statements, credit card bills, and government benefit statements.
- Recognize Warning Signs
As you review your accounts, keep an eye out for new applications made in your name, unauthorized charges or withdrawals, notices from debt collection agencies, bills for accounts you didn’t open, and unusual activity on your Social Security number.
How to Prevent Identity Theft
The good news is that there are things you can do to minimize your risk of identity theft—especially when you’re online.
- Set up alerts on your accounts to keep you apprised of any unusual activity.
- Use an identity theft protection service.
- Protect your home Wi-Fi network with strong passwords.
- Only use secure websites for online shopping.
- Never transmit sensitive data over a public Wi-Fi network.
- Use complex passwords and two-step authentication on all devices and online accounts, including social media.
- Keep track of passwords with a secure password manager.
- Store sensitive information like bank statements and your Social Security card in a secure location like an in-home safe or safety deposit box.