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How to Prevent Identity Theft

8 Minute Read

Dealing with identity theft feels like fighting an invisible enemy. With so many people becoming victims, how can you prevent identity theft from happening to you?

To find out, we spoke with Jessie Kohut, Identity Theft Specialist at Zander Insurance, to learn how you can protect yourself from identity theft.

1. Check your credit report at least three times per year.

Staying informed is your first line of defense to prevent identity theft. Did you know you can get a free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus once a year? Here’s a way to check your credit every four months: Get a report from one company at the beginning of the year, another in the middle, and another at the end of the year. Then, start all over again.

Checking your credit report often will help you identify any odd activity that might pop up. Here are some identity theft red flags we recommend you look for on your credit report:

  • inactive accounts that suddenly have activity on them

  • a line of credit you didn’t open

  • incorrect personal information

  • a good standing account in collections

  • a credit inquiry you didn’t apply for

If you see something strange on your credit report, take immediate action. You have the right to dispute any information that doesn’t look correct. First, notify the credit bureau so they can look into the issue. They’ll contact the company in question and dispute the charge. Depending on what they find, you may need to supply further documentation for their investigation.

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2. Make sure your computer has updated antivirus software.

If you don’t stay up to date with antivirus software, you leave yourself open as a target. It’s just that simple. Protect your identity by routinely checking for updates. Jessie mentioned, “This also includes anti-keylogger software so no one can hack into your computer.”

If you want added protection, make a habit of logging out of any account you access on your computer or mobile device. We’re talking anywhere you use a username and password to log in. Is it more convenient to stay logged in 24/7? Sure. But doing little things like this can give you greater peace of mind and help you stay protected from identity theft.

3. Make privacy a priority on social media.

Oh, social media. Some people just love to share every detail of their life without thinking twice about how public they’re being with their personal information. To be safe, set your privacy settings to the highest level. Also, don’t share personal information like your exact birthday (including the year), address or your mother’s maiden name.

4. Keep your phone secure.

Make sure you take advantage of the passcode or thumbprint scan to get into your phone. Keep Bluetooth turned off when you aren’t using it. Also, register with iCloud, so you can remotely wipe your phone if it gets stolen. We’ve got some more tips here on how to secure your phone.

5. Never use unsecured Wi-Fi.

As tempting as it might be to sit at Starbucks and sip your latte while going over online banking statements—don’t! Unsecured, public Wi-Fi is just that—unsecured. Those sitting around you are on the same open network and can easily get access to your information. If you need to log on to your banking website, wait until you get home.

And while we’re at it, your home Wi-Fi must be secured with a password. Otherwise, anyone near your home can hop onto your network and gain access to your information. “Identity thieves are just waiting for opportunities like that,” Jessie said.

6. Change your passwords every 90 days.

This includes passwords to your bank accounts, email and social media. “Once a thief gets one of your passwords, they’ll try it on many other sites,” Jessie said. “Facebook gets hacked all the time, so you don’t want them getting more personal information about you.”

She suggests making your passwords difficult combinations of uppercase letters, lowercase letters and special characters. Instead of trying to meet the minimum character count, make your passwords long. Use a phrase or a few random words strung together to really keep the hackers on their toes.

Try to use phrases that aren’t easy to guess. (Sorry, that means famous quotes and Bible verses aren’t good fallbacks). Get creative! Be sure to use a different password for each account. In other words, don’t use the same password for all your social media profiles, email addresses and banking accounts.

7. Check your online bank account every day.

“Banks have systems that watch your spending patterns and regular charges, and they’ll flag your account if something irregular is going on,” Jessie said. But it’s still important for you to log on every day and make sure there aren’t any weird charges connected to your account. You’re the first line of defense in preventing your identity from being stolen.

8. Don’t send bills from your personal mailbox.

“A lot of people are so concerned with digital fraud, they forget the easiest type of identity theft—just stealing mail out of your mailbox,” Jessie said. “Don’t put checks in your mailbox, because when they have a check, they have your bank account number and routing number. That’s just handing vital information to a thief.”

Jessie suggested using the post office or a postal service mailbox to send bills. Also, grab any mail out of your mailbox as soon as possible, as thieves thrive on swiping those credit card mailers.

“At the end of the day, thieves are lazy and look for the easiest way to get your information,” Jessie warned. “Sometimes, that’s just your mailbox.” If you want further security, consider using a locked P.O. box at your local post office.

9. Don’t fall for phishing scams.

Don’t open emails that look strange or suspicious. These are often phishing scams using fraud to gain access to your personal information. Read email subject lines carefully before you open an email, click on the links, or download attachments. And always be on high alert if they ask for personal or financial information.

10. Don’t forget about your kids’ information.

It’s sad, but true—even your toddler can fall prey to identity theft! Kids are easy identity theft targets because thieves correctly assume it will be a long time before the theft is detected. Kids aren’t credit active until they turn 18, so most parents never even know about the fraud until then.

Jessie suggested using TransUnion’s free Child Identity Theft Inquiry. Fill out your child’s information, and you’ll receive an email back. If your child has a credit file, that’s not a good sign,” she said. “Your credit isn’t like your Social Security number. You’re not born with credit, and you’ll only have a credit report if you’re credit active.” If someone is using your kid’s Social Security number, do something immediately.

11. Pay attention to data hacks and breaches.

If you receive a notification about a data breach (like the Equifax hack or the Target data breach a few years ago), start paying extra attention. “It doesn’t mean you’re a victim,” Jessie said. “But that does increase your risk. That’s when you start taking proactive steps to protect yourself.”

12. Guard your Social Security card, bank account numbers and medical history.

It should go without saying, but to prevent identity theft, it’s so important to protect your Social Security number and all forms of identification.

“The worst type of fraud is when someone has your unique name, date of birth and Social Security number,” Jessie said. “That’s when they can get a job, file taxes, and even receive medical care in your name. Do everything you can to protect your Social Security number.”

A lot of people forget about medical identity theft, which is another major way thieves steal information from you. It’s important you’re just as committed to safeguarding your health information as you are your other forms of identification. Be sure to analyze your medical bills and check the Explanation of Benefits (EOB) statement from your insurance company. “That’s a great way to detect medical fraud,” Jessie said.

Sadly, even with all these precautions, ID theft can happen to anyone. If it does, you’ll want someone in your corner who knows what they’re doing. That’s why we recommend Zander for identity theft protection. One thing that stands out about Zander’s ID theft program is that they assign a case worker to any client who has their identity stolen. Your case worker will do all the legwork for you so you can get your life back. Thanks, Zander!

Identity theft protection is just one of the important pieces you need to protect yourself and your family from unexpected life events. Take our 5-minute Coverage Checkup today to see what you need (and don't need) and where to get the best coverage!

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