Identity theft has become an ever-worsening issue surrounding online and in-person transactions, and the Identity Theft movie with Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman, while parodying the issue, still illustrated how awful it can be when it happens to you. While many experts discuss what to look for once you’ve become a victim of identity theft, we’re focusing on what you can do to prevent identity theft from happening in the first place. Read on for 6 tips to stop thieves from ever getting your info.
Types of identity theft
Like many other crimes, identity theft can take many different forms. Keep in mind that if your Social Security number is compromised, all of the entities that use it for identification purposes can also suffer the same fate. The Federal Trade Commission’s website, which is one of the best resources on the web for tackling issues related to identity theft, also reminds consumers that identity theft can occur in relation to your taxes, your children, and even your medical care.
How identity theft can happen
The methods that identity thieves use to grab your information and use it for their own criminal activity is extensive. Outside of the realm of the Internet, data thieves could be trying to steal your personal information from garbage or recycling cans at home or at your workplace. Within the digital realm, identity thieves can steal your personal data in the following (non-exhaustive list of) ways:
1. Email phishing schemes: email sent to your inbox from what looks to be a legitimate company asking you for personal information. Don’t fall for it!
2. Phone phishing schemes: phone calls from “representatives” claiming to be from a legitimate company asking for your personal information in relation to an “account” that you may or may not have with that company
3. Billing schemes: if you notice that you should be getting a bill but you aren’t, or that you’re receiving bills for things you never purchased, it’s a clear indicator that your identity has been compromised.
4. The FTC also adds that identity thieves often also:
- Drain your bank account and run up charges on your credit cards,
- Open new utility accounts,
- Get medical treatment on your health insurance,
- File a tax refund in your name and get your refund, and
- Give your name to the police during an arrest.
Securing your personal information before it can be stolen
The steps that you can take in protecting your identity online are numerous, but can be boiled down to the following 6 key things:
1. Never give out your personal information, especially your Social Security Number, during an email or phone call that you did not initiate.
2. Protect and encrypt your data whenever possible, especially using privacy tools.
3. Keep anti-virus, anti-spyware, and anti-malware programs updated to ensure optimal digital protection.
4. Limit the amount of information you share on social websites. If you must share, make sure you limit your account visibility to friends only.
5. Keep online passwords strong to prevent an account hack.
6. Keep track of who you give your email to and who is emailing you, or alternatively, try MaskMe and never give out your real email address again!