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How to minimize the risk of identity theft

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Identity Theft Explained

Identity theft is a type of fraud in which someone obtains your personal information and uses it for financial gain or fraudulent purposes. It is a big problem that affected around 4.7 million Americans in 2020. Identity theft involves stealing someone’s name, Social Security number, credit card information, bank account details, or other personal information for financial or fraudulent gain.

Once a thief has obtained this information, they may use it to open credit accounts, make purchases, or receive financial gain. They can only do what they have your information. Being a victim of identity theft can have serious consequences, such as financial losses, a damaged credit score, or legal troubles.

There are ways to protect yourself from identity theft, and you should monitor your financial accounts regularly to catch them before it happens.

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How is your information stolen?

Identity thieves can be very creative in obtaining your personal information for financial gain. There are many ways they are able to receive your information and use it for fraudulent activities.

The most common ways that identity is stolen are through online scams, stealing, hacking, dumpster diving, and by peeking:

Online Scams: We’ve all received a bunch of spammy emails that appear to be from large organizations saying we’ve won something or they need to verify some information.

They usually ask for things such as Social Security numbers, passwords, or credit card information. In some cases, they are able to do this by sending you a spammy link which, when clicked on, might allow them to track your information.

Stealing: This can be done in multiple ways, such as stealing your wallet, your ID, or your credit card at a point of sale, such as an ATM.

Identity thieves set up traps at public places where people use their wallets, helping them to get the information they need to use for financial gain. Be careful and keep your information close to you. 

Hacking: If identity theft gets a hold of one of your devices, such as a phone, computer, or anything else you use to access your accounts, it can mean trouble.

They will usually access your saved passwords and even reset your passwords with new ones. Always keep your electronics secured and protected with passwords.

Dumpster diving or by peeking: If you’re like many people who throw away their junk mail or bills without shredding them, you might be in trouble. Thieves will look over junk mail and obtain personal information, which they can use to pretend to be you and access your accounts.

Some thieves can also get information by peeking over your shoulder to access your password on your phone, for example, and then by stealing it, giving them full access to everything. Protect yourself by shredding important documents and being aware of your surroundings.

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Ways to minimize identity theft

There is no way to safeguard yourself fully from identity theft, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself from having your identity stolen. You can limit the movement of your information by properly disposing of your mail, not answering suspicious calls, and not sharing your personal information over email.

There are many ways you can protect yourself from identity theft and you should take all the necessary steps to avoid becoming a victim.

Protect your devices: It is advised to set passwords on all of your devices, such as laptops, phones, iPads, and others, to ensure their protection in case of theft. When a device is stolen, the first thing attempted is usually to access its content.

Having a passcode can slow down or prevent identity theft and the use of your information for financial gain. Additionally, most new devices allow location tracing, which can help you identify where the device is if it is turned on.

Using the appropriate tools and securing your devices with passcodes can help you protect yourself. Our phones store a lot of our information, including passwords, bank accounts, pictures, and much more, that can be used by thieves to gain access to our credentials. 

Think before you post: Unfortunately, this might not seem like a big deal, but social media can help thieves find your location. Having your life out in the open can allow identity thieves to use information from your social media accounts to create fake accounts and target your close followers with spammy links or even gather information about you from them.

Many people use their life as inspiration for their passwords, and having your pet names, school names and other personal information publicly available can help identity thieves gain access to your accounts.

Get Strong Passwords: This might seem like common sense to many individuals, but using strong passwords can help you keep your information secure. Having a weak password can make it easier for hackers to gain access to your accounts and use them for financial gain.

Be sure to use strong passwords and multiple security measures such as a code that will be texted to you to access your account. This will help you secure your account and add an extra layer of protection to it. Make sure to have lengthy passwords that include special characters and numbers.

Try to avoid common passwords or using your name, and get creative instead.

Shred documents and don’t disclose financials: When receiving important statements or other documents that contain your personal identification, make sure to dispose of them properly.

Instead of throwing them in the garbage, be sure to cut up or shred the documents, making it difficult for someone to identify their context. This can prevent thefts from finding out your account numbers and full name.

When receiving any calls, try not to disclose your personal information such as your social security number, full name, and account information. If you have to, be sure to confirm that the person you’re speaking with is from a legitimate company and not a scammer.

If you have any doubts about the authenticity of the company, hang up the call and contact the company directly.

Review your accounts: Even if you try your best to maximize your identity protections, slip-ups can happen. But it’s super important to catch them before it’s too late.

To do this, you should regularly review your account statements every month and notify your bank if there is something suspicious. Also, be sure to pull your free credit report once a year to make sure that all the information on it is accurate, helping you maintain a good credit score.

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What to do if you think your identity is stolen?

If you suspect that someone has accessed your accounts without your permission, or if someone is pretending to be you, you should take immediate action because identity theft can cause stress both mentally and financially.

Fortunately, there are many resources available to help you protect yourself. Here’s what to do if you think your identity has been stolen:

Contact Authorities: Contact any of your credit account companies and report fraud to your account. They will assist you in pausing your account which can limit the damage to your accounts.

Be sure to also file a report with Federal Trade Commission at File a police report which will help you get an official record that you were a victim of crime helping you support your fraud claim with the credit agencies. 

Place Fraud Alerts: Fraud alerts will help notify lenders and credits that your identity might of been stole which will help them keep their eye out.

This will force them to have a much stricter verification process making it hard for anyone to access your account. You can do that by contacting the major credit bureaus. 

Freeze your credit:  Once you have reported potential fraud you should free your credit score, which will prevent anyone from opening any new credit accounts in your name without your permission. You are able to do that by contacting the 3 credit bureaus such as Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. 

Change your information: Once you have put a hold on your accounts be sure to backtrack and change all of your passwords. Set long passwords with special characters to help you have extra protection to your credit accounts.

Also, consider setting up two-step verification on your account which will require a special code to be texted over to you before you can access your account. 

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