Identity thieves attempt to steal your safety and finances. You don’t need to be targeted by pickpockets in a strange city to be victimized. Identity theft can occur on social media, through a data breach, dumpster dive or even at the coffee shop.
Cyberthieves search for and exploit low-hanging fruit. A username and password used on multiple sites gives them a lot of access in one grab. If a scammer gains access to a combination of your social security number, name, address, account numbers or online credentials, they will search online to gather additional pieces of your identity puzzle.
Protecting your personally identifiable information (PII) requires that you get curious about how your information is shared and defensive about why your information is requested. Armed with knowledge, you can decide what to share and be proactive to protect yourself online and in person.
Steps to Protect your Identity
- Be stingy with your personal information and remember that legitimate businesses and banks do not call, email or text to ask for it.
- Nearly all online platforms have privacy settings you can review and finetune. Choose settings that reveal only the minimum about yourself.
- Don’t share confidential information through unencrypted email, texts, social media, websites or phone calls.
- Review your accounts, bills and statements regularly.
- Shred documents that include *any* personal information.
- Use complex, 15+ character passwords (when the website allows) that include an upper and a lower-case letter, a number and a symbol.
- Consider the use of a password manager to aid you in creating a unique password for each website.
- Use multi-factor authentication (MFA) whenever it is an option. MFA is a code sent to you by the website to use at login.
- Pull your credit report regularly, at least annually at freecreditreport.com.
- Never give access to your computer – remotely or in person – to anyone unless their identity and purpose are verified.
- If you think your identity has been compromised, act quickly to minimize any damage:
- Accept identity theft insurance if offered (as in the case of a published data breach) or seek out your own.
- Visit Identity Theft Resource Center for tips and advice.
- Consider enacting a credit freeze, which will stop or slow down scammers from opening new accounts or loans in your name.
Types of Identity Theft Fraud
Identity theft tops the list of consumer fraud reports filed with the Federal Trade Commission. The most common types of identity theft are:
- Financial – A fraudster uses another person’s bank account or credit card number to steal money or make purchases. Fraudsters may also use your social security number to open a credit card account.
- Tax – A criminal files a tax return and steals your refund.
- Medical – A scammer uses your personal information to receive medical care in your name and may use your financial resources or insurance.
- Employment – Someone uses your identity to get a job or to pass a background check.