Identity Theft Protection and Prevention
You get a call from your bank asking you to verify a purchase made at a Walmart in Wisconsin for $217. The only problem? You’re sitting on your couch in Texas. It sounds like you’ve been a victim of financial identity theft. Someone has obtained your personal banking or credit card information and attempted to make a purchase in your name. Thankfully, your bank thought a one-off purchase in Wisconsin when all your other transactions were made in Texas seemed fishy and alerted you to the problem before any real damage was done. But that isn’t always the case.
The 2021 Identity Fraud Study reported that identity fraud cost consumers $56 billion in 2020.
What Is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is when someone other than you uses your personal information like your name, credit card number, or social security number to commit fraud. They can obtain your information in a variety of ways, including:
- Physical theft: The act of physically stealing your wallet or purse containing a credit card, driver’s license, or social security card.
- Credit card skimming: A thief can place a device known as a card skimmer over any card reader to collect your credit card information. This is especially common at gas stations.
- Phishing: An email that appears to be from a legitimate source that attempts to capture personal information.
- Data breach: When someone accesses stored information without permission. Risk Based Security determined that 36 billion records were compromised by data breaches from January through September of 2020.
Once someone has your personal information, they can, depending on what information they have, access your bank account, open new credit cards, claim your tax refund, and use your health insurance, among other things.
7 Tips for Preventing Identity Theft
When you think about it, you use your personal information in a lot of different ways every single day. And every single time you make that information available, you increase the risk of identity theft. Fortunately, there are some easy things everyone can do to minimize the likelihood of identity theft.
1. Sign up for an identity protection service
An identity protection service is a great way to help keep your identity safe. While they are usually subscription-based, they offer features like credit monitoring and username and password monitoring, and they can even scan the dark web for instances of your personal information. These services will alert you of any issues and often cover funds lost.
2. Run your credit reports
You are entitled to one free credit report every year from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus – Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. You should make running your credit report a regular habit so you can catch anything unusual that may indicate identity theft. Stagger your reports throughout the year so you are always within a few months of having run a report.
3. Don’t reuse your passwords
Each password you use for an online account should be unique. They should also be difficult to guess by containing letters, numbers, and special characters and be longer than 10-15 characters. Avoid using real words or personally identifiable information. Never write your passwords down. A password manager is a helpful tool that can track all of your passwords for you as well as suggest complex passwords when you need to create a new password.
4. Be wary of uninitiated phone calls
Don’t give out personal information over the phone. Even if you’re fairly certain it’s your bank on the other line, it’s always a good idea to tell the person you’ll contact the bank directly from a number you have. Don’t fall for threats, no matter how persistent the person is. The IRS will never call you, and no one needs access to your computer.
5. Shred those documents
Shred any documents with personally identifiable information on them. Credit card statements, explanation of benefits, utility bills. Identity thieves will go through the trash looking for information they can use to steal your identity. If you don’t have a personal shredder, check whether your community has a regular shred day so you can safely dispose of your documents.
6. Don’t overshare on social media
We’ve all seen the fun challenges on Facebook – your first car plus your dog’s name is your rockstar name. Jeep Sprinkles? Or are those two potential security question answers I just shared with everyone? Be vigilant for anything that encourages you to share personal information. No one needs to know your grandmother’s name, the street you grew up on, or what the first concert you went to was.
7. Freeze your credit
Freezing your credit essentially prevents anyone from accessing your credit information. This prevents new accounts from being opened in your name because creditors cannot verify your credit. To freeze your credit, you need to contact each of the three credit bureaus and request a credit freeze. You will be given a PIN should you need to unfreeze your credit when applying for a legitimate loan or line of credit. You can also freeze a child’s credit, which helps prevent child identity theft.
8. Don’t click that link
Never click on a link from an unknown source. It could download malicious software that captures personal information. And be extra cautious of phishing attempts. An email may appear to come from a known source, but the link you need to click has something slightly off about it. Hover over any links before clicking them to determine where they lead. Is there an extra letter in the URL? Are they using a .co instead of a .com? If you’re ever unsure about a URL, go to the website in question directly by typing a known URL into the address bar.
Protect Your Identity with Life360
Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the U.S., and it can happen to anyone. The results can be devastating, including bankruptcy, loss of employment, and even jail time. But by staying vigilant, we can reduce the risk. It’s also important that we help those who might be more vulnerable to identity theft stay alert, such as seniors, college students, and children. If you think you or a loved one might be a victim of identity theft, take immediate action. The sooner you notice and stop the fraud, the less damaging the consequences.
With Identity Theft Protection features that detect and alert you of data breaches, Life360 stops online threats from becoming theft.
That’s why Life360 is trusted by more than 25 million members worldwide. Learn more about our free safety features.