In 2020, there were nearly 1.4 million identity theft cases in the United States. People who used stolen identities to sign up for credit cards, collect fraudulent unemployment benefits, and countless other scams. Cleaning up identity theft can be a real problem and drag on for years.
Identity theft protection is a simple antithesis to this problem. They pay for a service and they protect your identity. However, this protection comes at a price. What options do you have to protect yourself from identity theft without paying for a protection service? The answer: keep it simple.
An important part of protecting against identity theft is remembering that scammers are targeting simple goals. If you take a few simple steps to make sure you don’t fall victim to the simplest scams, identity thieves get on to a different goal.
6 simple strategies to prevent identity theft
Read your bank and credit card statements carefully
When you receive a bank or credit card statement, carefully review it line by line. Make sure you recognize every transaction. If you find transactions that don’t make sense to you or that you can’t track, contact the financial institution immediately.
If you come to the conclusion that someone has used your account without your authorization, request that this fee be removed and a new card issued. In some cases with bank accounts, you will also want to change your account number and receive new checks when you use them.
Don’t click email links
If you received an email with a clickable link and you want to keep track of what that email is about, don’t click the link. Instead, go to the company’s website independently and do the information yourself. Don’t even trust links that appear to be from friends, as scammers can easily forge email addresses. Ask friends to fill in the subject line information that is unique to them so you know they are legitimate, or text them to confirm that they sent you this cute puppy you tube video.
Why this? Often times, links in emails look like one thing but actually lead you to something else. You might end up with a web form or login prompt that looks completely legitimate but is actually a bogus website. When you sign up, you are giving this information to a scammer.
This may take a little longer, of course, but this simple step alone will protect you from a multitude of email tricks that can steal your identity.
Do not give any personal information on the phone
The same policy applies to unwanted phone calls. When someone calls you, never give them your personal information, no matter what they tell you. Hang up and contact the company directly if you think there is something important to follow up on.
For example, don’t give any information about yourself to someone on the phone who claims to be from your bank or the IRS. If someone contacts you who claims to be from these organizations, use the organization’s actual website to find the correct number and then call them back. If they don’t know what you’re talking about, then you know someone was just trying to cheat you.
Have a password on all of your devices
Every computer and mobile device you own should be password protected, ideally with something so complicated that it’s not easy to guess. You should choose to automatically lock it with a password every time you leave the device idle and every time you restart it. This is a very easy way of making things a little harder for a thief.
Choose a password that is not just a series of numbers (if possible) and not a single word. A good strategy is to combine the two – use a word and number that you remember and alternate between the two. For example, I could use the password Trent and the number 2084 to create the password “T2r0e8n4t” which is very difficult to crack but pretty easy to remember.
Passphrases are particularly effective, such as: “My H4sb @ nd is a R0ck St @ r!” Some security experts recommend using a favorite song for inspiration. Have a unique password for each account; do not recycle.
Check your credit reports regularly
The three major credit bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian) collect your credit habits from lenders. Potential lenders use them to assess your creditworthiness. These reports are also used to generate your credit scores. Check your credit reports with the credit bureaus once a year for free. One trick is to take turns checking a report every four months so that you can monitor your balance more closely.
When you’ve got your credit report, go through it line by line to make sure you recognize the information. Contact the lenders first to have any information corrected. The credit bureaus do not change the exact information. Contact the credit bureau for information such as your name, aliases, address, or employer.
Use a password manager
One final tip: use a password manager to protect your passwords. A password manager is software that stores a heavily encrypted file of all of your passwords that only you can access. This allows you to have different, very complicated passwords for each of your financial services and other accounts. So if one is hacked, the hackers won’t have access to other accounts.
As long as you remember a single very strong password for your password manager, strong passwords will be maintained for all of your needs. There are many software packages that offer this service, such as 1Password and LastPass.
What if you still want service?
If you are even more comfortable with a service, The Simple Dollar recommends several identity theft protection services. These can be calming, but work best when combined with the other steps in this article.
What do these services do? Identity theft services monitor personal information in loan applications, public records, websites, and other locations for unusual activity that could indicate identity theft, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Premium packages of these services provide additional features that you can use to troubleshoot identity theft problems and provide proactive assistance, such as: B. to let you know if your bank has been hacked before it specifically affects you.
What about credit monitoring? Credit monitoring is a part of identity theft services. It’s usually a lot cheaper on its own, but it usually just monitors your credit report.
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