Identity theft and fraud protection for your finances, personal info, and devices.
Just How Bad Is Identity Theft in 2023?
Identity theft is the unlawful use of someone else's personal information without their consent or knowledge, usually for financial gain. There are many types of identity thefts including medical, criminal, and credit card-related theft.
According to the Consumer Sentinel Network, maintained and updated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), there were 1.1 million reports of identity theft in 2022 [*]. This makes up for almost 22% of all fraud reports received by the FTC last year.
Among these, credit card fraud topped the list for the most common type of identity theft. There were 441,882 reports from people who said that their information was misused with an existing credit card or for new credit card applications.
16 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft
- Freeze your credit
- Request a free credit report
- Monitor your credit (and identity)
- Review your financial, medical statements
- Safeguard your SSN
- Secure your physical mail
- Go paperless when possible
- Shred all confidential documents
- Secure your mobile devices
- Don't ignore software updates
- Tighten your social media privacy settings
- Use strong and unique passwords
- Enable two-factor authentication (avoid SMS)
- Don't click on suspicious links
- Avoid using public Wi-Fi
- Watch over your shoulder at the ATM
Criminals can do serious damage if they get ahold of enough of your personal information. Here are the best ways you can help protect yourself from having your identity stolen.
1. Freeze your credit
If you've recognized a clear warning sign of identity theft, you should initiate a credit freeze on your credit file with the three major credit bureaus: TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian.
Initiating a credit freeze is free and only takes about 30 minutes to complete. Freezing your credit file will block unauthorized attempts to open any new credit accounts in your name, even if they’ve stolen sensitive information such as your driver's license or Social Security number.
Given the large number of major data breaches that have taken place in 2022, we would recommend that everyone freeze their credit. At this point it is not only possible, but probable that your information has been exposed.
Identity Guard's team of experts can provide step by step guidance through this process. Visit our plans page to decide which membership option is right for you.
2. Request your free credit report
Consumers can access a free credit report from annualcreditreport.com. However, the information on your credit file can be overwhelming and confusing to digest.
There may be remarks on your credit report that you don't recognize, which can make it hard to tell if your identity has been stolen. It's possible that you forgot about requesting a credit line increase in 2016. Or maybe you applied for a credit card with a merchant that changed their name.
Regardless, it’s important to stay familiar with your credit report and regularly monitor your credit score. You should request a free copy of your credit report from the three major credit bureaus to ensure the data in each report is accurate.
If you notice any discrepancies in your credit file, you'll need to contact Experian, Equifax or TransUnion to get it corrected ASAP.
3. Monitor your credit (and identity)
Consider enrollment with a credit monitoring service. There are both free and paid options for credit monitoring, but for the most coverage and best protection, you’ll want a credit monitoring solution that integrates with data from all three major credit bureaus and has the ability to send timely fraud alerts regarding any suspicious activity on your credit file.
Identity Guard is the best alternative to many popular solutions on the market, and is rated the #1 Identity Theft Protection service by U.S. News & World Report. If you're someone that values convenience and peace of mind, you'll definitely want to try Identity Guard.
If the idea of automatic credit monitoring intrigues you, identity monitoring will go the extra mile to protect you. In addition to credit monitoring, Identity Guard offers identity theft protection plans with preventative features to protect your financial information.
Identity Guard plans include bank account number monitoring, credit card number monitoring, antivirus software, anti-phishing tools, virtual private network (VPN) and much more to keep you protected against ID theft.
4. Review your financial & medical statements
After reviewing and freezing your credit, it's time to review your bank statements and health insurance statements for fraudulent activity.
Following a doctor’s appointment, you'll receive an account statement from your insurance provider. Be sure to read it carefully before discarding it.
Identity thieves don't need much to commit medical identity theft and run up bills in your name. They don't even need sensitive documents like your social security card, driver's license ID or debit card.
All it takes is knowing your health insurance ID number, and they'll call any doctor in your insurance network to schedule an appointment for healthcare. Later on, you'll be stuck paying the bill.
NBC news has recently reported that fake COVID-19 testing sites are an emerging type of scam seeking to exploit medicare patients, senior citizens and financially marginalized people [*].
Beware of unlicensed "pop-up" COVID-19 testing sites that request too much personal information, such as your Social Security number and credit card number. Fake COVID-19 testing sites may be a catalyst for identity theft.
The damage goes even further than ID theft, as they often provide a false negative test result. That means you could be walking around thinking you don't have COVID, meanwhile you're infecting everyone you come into contact with.
5. Safeguard your Social Security number (SSN)
Whenever you’re asked to provide your Social Security number, ask why it's necessary. You should also ask how your Social Security number will be stored and protected.
Other than starting a new job, there's rarely a scenario that requires you to submit a copy of your Social Security card, so beware those types of requests as well.
The more scarce you make your Social Security number, the less likely it is to be exposed in a data breach.
🎯 Related: Do You Really Need Identity Theft Protection? →
6. Secure your physical mail
Your mailbox is a goldmine for identity thieves. Your physical mail contains a jackpot of valuable information such as new credit offers from credit card companies, your tax return and year-end IRS documents, health insurance statements, utility bills, gov-issued IDs, and much more.
If possible, route your physical mail to a post office box or install a USPS approved lock system on your mailbox.
If neither of these options exist, do your best to retrieve your physical mail on a daily basis. If you go on vacation, have a trusted friend or family member collect your physical mail on your behalf.
7. Go paperless when possible
Opting into paperless billing eliminates the possibility of someone stealing sensitive information from your mailbox.
Most financial institutions and medical offices will offer the option to receive your communications digitally.
Your email inbox is not necessarily an invincible safe place, but it's still more secure than receiving physical mail.
8. Shred all confidential documents
Papers and physical billing statements tend to contain sensitive personal information that could be stolen and used to commit identity fraud.
The bottom line: don't discard any sensitive documents in the trash as they can be retrieved, stolen and used for illegal activity.
9. Secure your mobile devices
A stolen or hacked phone can quickly lead to identity theft. To keep your mobile devices safe, make sure to:
- Use biometric identity verification, such as Face ID to unlock your phone.
- Set your smartphone settings to auto-lock after 30 seconds of stalled screen use.
- Don’t store any sensitive passwords in Google Chrome or Safari Keychain, as they can easily be hacked.
- If you're using an iPhone, add a backup trusted phone number to your Apple account. This way, if your Apple account is compromised, you can recover it by receiving verification codes on your backup trusted device.
- Use a secure VPN on your mobile device — especially if you are browsing the web on public Wi-Fi.
- If you're using a smartphone that is vulnerable to malware or spyware, such as a device that uses the Android operating system, you may want to install a reputable antivirus application. A good antivirus will sniff out malicious apps, and can help you avoid phishing websites.
10. Don’t ignore software updates
Hackers exploit security flaws in smartphone and computer operating systems in order bypass firewalls and steal your data.
When a company discovers a security flaw in their operating system, they’ll develop and release a patch to users. Until that patch is installed, user data remains vulnerable.
WannaCry, one of the largest worldwide ransomware attacks of all-time, was able to wreak incredible havoc due to a flaw in Microsoft Windows operating system [*].
Log4j is the newest software vulnerability leaving millions of devices at risk. [*]
11. Tighten your social media privacy settings
Most of us provide our personal information – name, birthdate, job, hometown, and maybe even email address – publicly displayed on our social media profiles without a second thought.
If a scammer wanted to collect information about you, attempting to commit identity theft on social media is their favorite first step.
When you publicly display your birthdate, mother’s maiden name, high school mascot, and hometown where you grew up – these can all be answers to security verification questions that we’ve set up on our most sensitive accounts.
To prevent identity theft, review any publicly displayed data about yourself and your family on social media.
Children under the age of 18 are often the target of child identity theft, because their credit score is completely unmarked. Posting information about your children on social media, even if it's just their full names and birthdays, can be just as dangerous as posting your own.
While tightening your social media privacy settings, consider the kind of peace of mind that an Identity Guard family plan would be able to provide to your loved ones while they're using social media.
12. Use strong and unique passwords
Reusing the same old, easily guessable, recycled passwords for multiple online accounts is a recipe for disaster. Expert hackers have developed advanced techniques for password cracking, so don't make it any easier on them. You should update your passwords so that they consist of a random combination of letters, numbers, and symbols.
Ideally, you should be using a secure password manager to relieve the headache that comes with having to store and remember complex passwords.
If you're worried about your usernames and passwords floating around out there on the Dark Web, there are plenty of Dark Web scanners out there you can test for yourself.
13. Enable two-factor authentication (avoid SMS)
Relying on text message based two-factor authentication (2FA) to protect your online accounts won’t cut it anymore. If your smartphone is stolen, thieves will be able to read all the SMS verification codes, even if the phone is locked.
With the advent of SIM swapping, using two-factor authentication to receive verification codes via text message is no longer a reliable method of securing your personal data.
Instead, use an authenticator app such as Google or Microsoft to enable two-factor authentication for your most sensitive online accounts.
14. Don’t click on suspicious links
Phishing scams are at an all-time high. Scammers are so good these days, they even fooled Google's algorithm in a recent gift card scam.
Emails or text messages may have the appearance of a trustworthy source, but can turn out to be convincingly fake. Each time you open a spam email and click on a suspicious link, you're rolling the dice. As Donna Gregory, the chief of the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) put it [*]:
“Criminals are becoming so sophisticated. It's getting harder and harder for victims to spot the red flags and tell real from fake."
Out of an abundance of caution, never click on links that come from suspicious senders. Don’t respond to emails that ask for your personal information, and always be discerning when receiving offers that seem too good to be true.
This applies to text messages as well. If you get an unsolicited text message with a link to "claim your prize" just delete the text, block the number and move on.
15. Avoid using public Wi-Fi
Public Wi-Fi is a lot like fast food; it’s convenient and cheap, but not the best choice for your (digital) health.
We get the temptation. Your cellular data at the airport, or local coffee shop is too slow. Free Wi-Fi to the rescue! But not so fast, as unprotected public Wi-Fi networks leave your mobile devices vulnerable to attacks.
Whatever you do on your mobile device while connected to a public Wi-Fi network can be hacked. This includes posting to social media, making a credit card purchase, or logging in to your online bank account.
Your login credentials to apps or accounts are all valuable pieces of sensitive information that hackers may try to steal by exploiting vulnerabilities in a public Wi-Fi connection.
16. Watch over your shoulder at the ATM
Watch your back when making ATM withdrawals, or you could leave yourself vulnerable to "shoulder surfing" where criminals lurk over your shoulder just as you're entering your ATM pin code.
Even if you're not at the ATM, watch your back when logging into your online bank accounts on your smartphone. Identity thieves have shifty eyes, and may attempt to watch you type your login credentials on a crowded subway or bus station.
For 24/7 Protection, Consider Identity Guard
It’s unrealistic to think that you can 100% prevent identity theft from happening. With the increase in data breaches, criminals can gain access to your personal data with no fault of your own.
Identity theft protection services like Identity Guard provide 24/7 monitoring of your most sensitive information — from your identity to your financial accounts.
Identity Guard has protected over 47 million customers and helped resolve 140,000 cases of identity fraud.
With Identity Guard, you get:
- Identity monitoring powered by Artificial Intelligence.
- $1,000,000 insurance policy covering eligible losses due to identity theft.
- Data breach notifications.
- Dark Web monitoring.
- High-risk transaction monitoring.
- Credit and debit card monitoring.
- Risk management reports.
- Social media insight reports.
- Safe browsing tools.