Identity theft, in simple terms, happens when your personal data like name, date of birth, Social Security number, etc. is used to impersonate you, usually for financial gain. If your identity is stolen, new lines of credit may be opened, your bank account drained, your investments cashed, or even medical records accessed, all without your knowledge. Identity theft is fast becoming a problem, which is why you must take care to do everything to prevent it. In 2020, complaints of identity theft rose to 1.4 million; more than double that of the previous year, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Some ways of safeguarding your identity from being stolen:
Every time you want a new line of credit, the lender will make a hard inquiry of your credit report. If you freeze your credit by giving instructions to all the three major credit bureaus, TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax, it will be impossible for anyone to take a new loan or subscribe to a new credit card in your name. If you need new credit, you can unfreeze it for the time it takes for your application to be processed and freeze it, thereafter.
Be Careful About Disclosing Your Social Security Number
Your Social Security number is a critical element of your identity, which is why you must never disclose it without knowing why it is required and whether there are adequate safeguards for protecting it in place. Do to carry the card with you or store a copy of it in an unprotected electronic device, especially those connected to the internet. If you must store it online, make sure it is protected with a strong password. Do not throw documents containing your Social Security number in the garbage, shred it before disposing of it, recommends an identity guard advisory.
Use Robust Passwords and Two-Factor Authentication
You should protect all your online accounts with unique and strong passwords that must never be written down anywhere. Make it a point not to reuse passwords or use easily guessable passwords, like your name, date of birth, or string of repetitive numbers, etc. Make sure the passwords are a combination of random alphabets in upper and lower case, numeric, and special characters. If you find them difficult to remember, you should use a password manager. Use a two-factor authentication process wherever available to further secure your accounts. Be careful what you post on social media.
Be Alert To Phishing or Fake Phone Calls and Messages
When visiting a website where you need to log in, make sure that the site is authentic and not a lookalike setup to steal your account details. Also, do not respond to emails, messages, or phone calls that ask for your account details, login credentials, or OTPs. Even if it looks legitimate, you should initiate a callback or send an email to the entity yourself. Never open any email attachments from unknown senders as they can contain malware.
In addition to the above steps, one of the most effective ways of finding out if there has been any incident of identity theft is to keep a close watch on your credit reports. Make sure all the information contained is correct and updated, and immediately report any discrepancy.