You’ve got it all—the white picket fence—a happy family. Even the dog and cat have a skip in their steps. From out of nowhere, bills for items you never purchased arrive in your mailbox. You entertain the thought, “maybe I forgot to pay a bill”, but just as quickly dismiss that option.
Then, the bank denied your credit application and collectors call to demand payment for thousands of dollars of debt you know nothing about.
So what’s going on? Most likely, you’re the victim of identity theft. Last year, nearly 18 million, that’s one in every 14 Americans, were victims of identity theft. But what does that mean for you? Learn now how to avoid identity theft so you don’t become a statistic.
Understand What Identity Theft Is
Before we talk about how to avoid identity theft, you need to understand this: a thief steals as much as they can about you. This means your full name, social security number, and other personal information. They intend to commit fraud and do so by using YOUR information to apply for credit cards or loans. These sneak thieves use your name to file taxes, get medical services, and make purchases.
Just like millions of other people, you won’t know you’re a victim of identity theft until mystery bills, credit collections, and denied loans become commonplace. That sounds like a nightmare, but it gets worse.
Your credit score takes a hit getting seriously damaged which takes time and money to restore. If you think an identity thief can’t access and steal your money, think again. They withdraw funds from bank accounts and steal tax refunds. These identity theft snatchers may even sell your information on the dark web (the part of the World Wide Web that is only accessible by means of special software, which allows users to remain anonymous or untraceable.)
By learning how to avoid identity theft, you can take actions now.
How to Avoid Identity Theft: 20 Things You Can Do
- Never carry your social security card in your wallet. A home safe or a safe deposit box are first choices to safeguard your information.
- Be selective when giving out your social security number. Physicians routinely ask for it but they can just as easily use a photo ID.
- Memorize your social security number so there’s no need to keep the card with you.
- Get into the habit of reviewing your credit card and bank accounts often. If you have online accounts, you can review them every couple of days.
- Set up fraud alerts on your online bank accounts to receive an email or cell phone text when there’s suspicious-looking activity.
- Never provide your social security number, birthday, bank account numbers, and other information to phone, mail, and online solicitors.
- As a safety measure, consider purchasing an RFID wallet: it’s a Radio Frequency Identification wallet that prevents readers from picking up the data in RFID-based credit cards (with a chip) and ID cards that are in the wallet. Pickpockets use a digital scanner or even a smartphone to electronically scan your personal information.
- Memorize your debit card PIN number. Don’t carry the number in your wallet and make sure that no one watches when typing the number everytime you make purchases with your debit card or withdraw money from an ATM.
- Look out for test charges on your bank statement. This is how a thief verifies that your credit card is active. Once small charges go through, they make larger purchases.
- Use a designated computer just for banking online or making purchases. Identity thieves attach spyware to emails and pop-up windows in an effort to record keystrokes and obtain passwords. If you don’t open emails or surf the web, you minimize the possibility of identity theft.
Here Are 10 More Ways on How to Avoid Identity Theft
- Credit card offers arrive in the mail with your name and address filled out on the application. Shred these documents rather than toss them in the trash as thieves resort to combing through trash for personal information.
- Use strong passwords to protect your accounts. Use a series of capital letters, symbols, and numbers. The longer the password you have, the better. Never use the same password for every account.
- You can get a free credit report annually to ensure there’s no fraudulent activity that negatively affects your credit history.
- If you’re a business owner, invest in cyber defense to protect computers and your business against ransomware attacks (a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money is paid).
- Consider investing in theft fraud protection for your mobile phones and computers. They monitor your credit and personal information and help you restore your identity should a theft occur.
- Keep a copy of what you carry in your wallet. If identity theft happens, you won’t be scrambling to come up with account numbers for credit, medical, and other types of cards.
- Limit your credit cards to only a few. You can obtain debit and credit cards from the same bank you use for your checking account. That way you can keep tabs on everything in one location.
- Credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—provide a smartphone app so you can lock your credit. That way you unlock and lock access to your credit whenever you decide.
- Avoid giving your credit card to restaurant employees. They can easily take a picture of your credit or debit card using a smartphone. Pay with cash or monitor your credit card statement often.
- Dispute fraudulent transactions as soon as they appear on your bank statement or credit card. Request new cards anytime there’s an incident.
If you’ve used these proactive tips but are a victim of identity theft, what do you do next?
How to Report Identity Theft
When learning how to avoid identity theft, one thing is clear. You have options to counteract dishonest people intent on harming your credit and creating havoc in your life. Here are three ways to report identity theft.
- If you suspect you have been the victim of identity theft, use this online form to report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), or call by phone at 1-877-438-4338. They provide you a recovery plan with necessary steps you can take.
You may also report specific types of identity theft to other federal agencies.
- Medical Identity Theft: Contact your health insurance company’s fraud department or Medicare’s fraud office.
- Tax Identity Theft: Report incidents to the Internal Revenue Service and your state’s Department of Taxation or Revenue.
Unfortunately, there are people who make a living at your expense without giving it a second thought. Identity theft is on the rise each year. In fact, this type of burglary occurs every two seconds.
Here’s another statistic that may surprise you. On average, it takes about three months for people to realize their data has been breached. Even more alarming is that 16% of identity theft victims don’t find out for three years.
That’s where you come in and stop identity thieves in their tracks. These embezzlers are after your hard-earned money. Put the 20 tips listed above into practice immediately to protect you and your family. They are absolutely free and easy to implement.
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