Protect Your Identity
Identity theft occurs when criminals target your personal information. Find out how to stop identity theft and what protection services exist.
According to a 2021 report from the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft nearly doubled from 2020. Not only were more cases being reported, but the damages were also increasing. There are several reasons why identity theft is on the rise. Identity theft, which refers to any crime where an individual claims your personal information to impersonate you, is more because identity thieves are becoming smarter and developing new techniques. With more customers choosing to shop online, identity thieves are abandoning old methods of obtaining information in favor of data breaches and online scams.
While online identity theft is on a rise, it does not mean the older methods are abandoned. There are still many identity thieves obtaining personal information through phone and mail scams. This is especially common with medical or tax theft. Identity theft is a serious crime. If someone impersonates you to open a new credit card or take out a loan, you are responsible for the charges. Criminals can even commit crimes under your name, damaging your reputation and putting you at risk for criminal charges. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to secure your identity.
Monitor your Credit
In the past, identity theft focused on obtaining personal information to make a series of quick, expensive purchases. The most common scam involved opening up a new credit card, maxing it out in a few hours, leaving you with an expensive bill. These scams still occur, but identity thieves are becoming cleverer and running longer schemes. This is because many credit companies automatically scan for suspicious purchases, freezing the accounts until the credit holder approves the expenses, making it easier to catch the thief.
Detecting identity theft is much harder when the thief is subtle. One of the ways you can detect unusual expenses on your account is monitoring your credit report. Your credit report contains a detailed breakdown on your financial history, including your credit and loan history. If a thief is using your identity to create a false account, your report will not only list the additional debt, but your credit score is likely to take a hit because the thief is building debt without paying it off.
Each year, the three major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion are all required to provide free credit scores. All three services also offer additional resources to check your credit report if you believe you are a victim of identity theft.
With most information being exchanged digitally, it is easy to fall behind on checking your mail. There are several identity theft scams that simply involve stealing your mail because of the personal information contained in letters. Utility bills and medical documents are prime targets because they contain the most information. You can prevent these thefts by opting to go paperless, receiving all your documents through email.
Even if you are paperless for bills, there are still documents identity thieves can use. Credit companies frequently send out pre-paid credit or loan offers. While this may seem like junk mail, an identity thief can turn these offers in on your behalf.
If you are out of town, consider asking a friend or neighbor to get your mail for you. Identity thieves look for buildups of unanswered mail, since these are the best targets. You can also get your mail delivered to a Post Office box instead. This is a secure box only you or approved employees can access, ensuring none of your letters or bills are stolen.
Even if you have a PO box, you must make sure you properly dispose of all mail and documents with personal information. If you throw this information away, there is nothing stopping identity thieves from going through your garbage to retrieve the information. Instead of throwing away your documents, run them through a paper shredder. Once the forms are destroyed, then you can throw them away.
While there are many conveniences to shopping and paying bills online, there are also security risks. Many users make the mistake of using the same password on every website. This means if there is a data breach, identity thieves can use your password on all your accounts. Another risk is having all your login information stored on your computer or phone. You can have an incredibly complex password, but it does not matter if the thief is able to use your autologin to get straight to your account.
In addition to password protection, consider setting up two factor authentication. With two factor authentication, you enter your username and password as normal. Instead of going directly to your account, you must submit another password, which is sent to your email or phone. With phones and tablets, you can also set up a fingerprint scan to unlock your screen or access your apps.
Finally, keep up with software updates. It may seem inconvenient to update your device or apps, but these updates contain important security fixes. Hackers are constantly developing new methods to infiltrate your devices. Security updates are so frequently pushed out to counter vulnerabilities and keep your identity safe.
While there are many methods to keep your identity safe, you can also invest in a security app for an extra layer of protection. Aura is widely regarded as the best identity theft protection. It includes live account monitoring, sending an automatic alert and asking for confirmation whenever there is a suspicious purchase on your credit cards. It also offers malware and antivirus protection for your computer or phone, as well as a secure password manager. An individual plan costs $15 each month as of writing and provides protection for up to 10 devices. A family plan is available for $50 and supports five members and up to 50 devices.
While Aura is an effective program, it is also expensive. An alternative to Aura is the less expensive Identity Guard. Identity Guard uses an AI algorithm to identify security vulnerabilities. It will scan your devices for any malicious software, such as keystroke loggers that record your passwords. The company also scans the dark web and social media sites for mentions of leaked personal data being sold. It also sends automatic alerts based on significant changes in your credit report. Identity Guard starts at $8.99 per month for a basic account, but there are several additional plans available with even more security.