13 Easiest Ways To Prevent Identity Theft

Man hacking into computer

Sometimes we get so focused on doing all the right things -- saving money on a regular basis, contributing to retirement accounts, paying down debt, keeping our financial records organized, etc., that we overlook the areas where we need to protect ourselves. Identity theft incidence rates continue to grow, not only amongst adults but also in cases where children are the targets. How does identity theft happen? We thought it would be helpful to review the steps that you can take to protect against identity theft as well as what to do if you fear that your personal information has been compromised.

13 easiest ways to prevent identity theft

  1. Use your shredder to obliterate receipts, offers, applications, or any other form that may contain some of your personal information. Do not just throw away anything that has personally identifying information. Shred it.
  2. Do not leave outgoing checks in your home mailbox if it's not secure. Take checks to post office collection boxes instead.
  3. If you won't be home for several days, request a vacation hold on your mail via a USPS mail hold request.
  4. Consider opting out of pre-screened offers of credit and insurance by mail. You may opt out for five years or permanently by calling 1-888-566-8688 or going to Opt Out Prescreen (A service operated by the three nationwide credit reporting agencies). Please note however that pre-screened offers can provide benefits and if you opt out, you may miss out on credit offers.
  5. Only share personal information over the telephone if you know with whom you are dealing and/or if you have initiated the call.
  6. Do not respond to mail or email requests for personal information, even if you have an account with the requesting company. Instead, call their customer service number on your statement to see if the company actually sent a request.
  7. Before disposing of a computer or mobile device, clear it of all personal information.
  8. Keep your internet browser secure by using encryption software. Always look for the "lock" icon on the status bar if transmitting personal information. The "lock" icon means that you are on a securely encrypted website.
  9. Keep your passwords private and change them regularly. Watch the video below for more password safety tips.
  10. Do not share too much personal information on social networking sites. Identity thieves could find out information about your life to answer "challenge" questions on your accounts.
  11. Keep your devices secure by using security monitoring software: anti-virus, anti-spyware, and firewall. Do not open files or click on links sent to you by people you do not recognize. Lock up your devices by requiring someone to type a password before they can gain access to the device.
  12. Check your credit report at least once a year or sign up for a credit monitoring service (for a fee). Monitoring services notify you when there has been a change to your credit report or when a new account has been opened in your name. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the three nationwide reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, to provide you with a free copy of your credit report at your request once every twelve months. If you stagger them throughout the year, you can potentially check your credit report every four months. Some reporting agencies offer family plans that include credit monitoring for up to four children for free. Right now, one in forty children has his/her identity stolen, so it is important to monitor minor children's information, too.
  13. Use accounting software, like Quicken or the free Mint to download all transactions on a regular basis and reconcile them. This helps you to quickly notice if there are transactions in your accounts that you do not recognize.

What to do if your personal information has been compromised

  1. Initiate a Free Fraud Alert by contacting the three credit reporting companies. A Fraud Alert typically lasts for three months and notifies you of any new activity on your credit report (like new applications). It will permit creditors to get your report as long as they take steps to verify your identity and make sure it was you that initiated the credit inquiry.
  2. You may upgrade to an Extended Fraud Alert (also free) if you create an Identity Theft Report. The extended alert lasts for seven years and entitles you to two free credit reports within 12 months from each of the three credit reporting companies.
  3. Put a Credit Freeze on your file. The cost varies by state and can be free. A freeze generally stops all access to your credit report, but it is important to note that it may not stop misuse of your existing accounts. If you want a business, lender, or employer to be able to review your credit report, you must request that the credit freeze be lifted.

We hope that this information proves useful on preventing identity theft. Have you been a victim of identity theft? Is there anything you learned that could be useful to our readers?