Dwight Schrute put it best: “Identity theft is not a joke, Jim!” It affects one in 20 Americans a year. In 2019, total fraud losses of identity theft equated to nearly 17 billion dollars, and that number is growing.

You use your personal information every day to check your email, sign in to your favorite streamer, and access your bank account. You may think that the super secure password you made of your dog and mother’s maiden name and put on a sticky note next to your computer is hack-proof, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Even encrypted passwords aren’t entirely secure from hackers that are trying to steal your information for financial gain.

There is hope, though. You can prevent identity theft by incorporating some basic tactics and tools available to you online.

What Is Identity Theft?

If you are going to fight identity theft, you need to first know what it is. Also referred to as identity fraud, identity theft refers to all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains or uses your personal data in a way that involves fraud or deception, usually for financial gain.

Once an identity thief has your information, they are able to use it to commit credit card fraud, hack your accounts, use your social media, impersonate you, commit ransomware attacks, withdraw money from your bank accounts, and a myriad of other personal attacks that can greatly harm your life.

The FTC, which protects consumers’ personal information, suggests paying close attention to all of your bank accounts and insurance providers to keep an eye out for any suspicious activity that might be a sign of identity fraud.

Signs of Theft

It can be difficult to spot identity theft, so learning what to look for is crucial. Changes in credit scores that don’t make sense are a sign that someone has your information and is using it.

In fact, any changes to your credit card that you don’t recognize are cause for concern. If you stop receiving bills in the mail, thieves may have changed the billing address of your cards so that you don’t see the statements.

Being turned down for a loan or credit card is also a sign you have been targeted if you normally have good credit. Or, if you are approved but at a much higher rate, you could be a victim of theft. If you are notified of a password or account change that is unfamiliar, hackers may be using your information to lock you out of your account.

How It Happens

There are many ways a person can commit identity theft. Some of the most common ways are simpler than you might think. If you use your computer in a public place, you can be exposed to “shoulder surfing.” This occurs when a hacker watches you from a nearby location as you enter personal identification.

 Another simple but effective method for stealing your identity is going through your trash. We have all received “pre-approved” credit card mail and quickly dumped it in the garbage.

 If you don’t tear them up or blackout your information before tossing, a criminal can activate them without your knowledge. If you live in a place with a communal mailroom, a criminal can access your mail and redirect it to their location.

 Spam is another classic way for hackers to access your data. If you accidentally click on a link that is tied to a thief, they can gain access to your personal information.



Let’s look at how we can keep identity theft from happening.

Theft Services

Not as tasty as craft services, theft services are online services you can subscribe to that will help to prevent identity theft. These services, of which there are many, may not be able to prevent your data from being stolen, but they can alert you of a data breach promptly after it takes place. This will limit the amount of damage a hacker can cause and put you on the fast path to recovery.

These services come with monthly or annual fees and are subscription-based. They often include monitoring of your credit reports, medical information, financial accounts, and any other places where a hacker can access your information.

These services sometimes offer recovery services and coverage of up to a million dollars. They can also provide access to attorneys or investigators that can help you recover from the theft. They may also provide you with frequent updates on your activity so that you can monitor anything that looks suspicious.

Do your research and find a company that fits your needs.

Mr. Freeze Your Credit

This lesser-known Batman villain can help keep your information out of hackers’ virtual hands. Freezing your credit file restricts your credit report. Once done, no one can open a line of credit under your name, including you.

It also prevents hackers from applying for a loan, getting a new credit card under your name, or opening an account under your name. In order to freeze your credit, you have to contact one of the three credit reporting agencies and request it. Once done, you will get a pin that will unlock it at a later date.

This is safe and effective and will not harm your credit score, and is the best protection against identity thieves trying to open new accounts.

If you have kids, you should do this as soon as possible. Millions of kids have their creditworthiness impacted by hackers and are not aware of it until they apply for a student loan.

Don’t Pass on Passwords

Passwords are the first line of defense against hackers and identity thieves. Only 36% of Americans password-protect their mobile devices, making them prime candidates for identity thieves.

 Your home is a fortress: you have double locks on your doors and keep your home well-lit at night. So, you wouldn’t leave your home with the door wide open; why would you do it with your smartphone? Lock it with a secure pin ASAP.

 For your accounts, secure passwords are complex, long, and unique. Don’t use your social as a pin or your birthday, and stay away from other personal information like your last name, initials, or street name when making a password. Try a random assortment of numbers, letters, and characters.

 If this scares you, read on to learn about password managers.

 It’s recommended that your password is at least 15 characters. This will make it hard for hackers and their programs to crack. For security questions, choose ones that cannot be answered by searching online. For instance, your school or mother’s maiden name

May I Speak To the Manager?

A password manager is a great way to protect yourself online. Using the same password for all of your accounts makes it easy for hackers to get in and have a field day with your information.

But having different passwords for everything you create can get confusing, and writing down passwords is a surefire way to compromise the security of your accounts. 

Your best bet is to use a manager that will keep track of all the different, long, and unique passwords that you settle on. Lastpass and 1Password are secure sites that store your account information so that you don’t have to remember all of them.

Many of these managers will also suggest strong passwords for your accounts so you can make sure your passwords are as good as they can be.

Two-Factors Are Better Than One

Beyond having strong and varying passwords, you should always opt for two-factor authentication. Almost all data breaches are due to a compromised password, so having a second layer of security is key.

If you are not familiar, two-factor authentication requires a pin or password sent to your device and/or a fingerprint to be entered after using your password.

For example, once you enter your password, you will receive a text with a unique code for you to enter on the password page. So, if a hacker gets your password, they will not be able to access your accounts without the second key.

Set this up anytime it is offered.

Gone Phishing

Phishing is a cybercrime that targets your email, phone, or text. The criminal pretends to be a legitimate business that is requesting personal information. They then use the information to access your accounts and steal your identity. They can also download malware to your computer once you click the link.

To avoid this, do not click any link that looks suspicious or links that you are not expecting. A simple trick is to hover over a link to see where it wants to take you. On your browser, the page preview will be in the lower-left part of your screen. If it looks suspicious, delete the message. Signs of a suspicious link include spelling errors in the URL and commas instead of periods at the end of the link.

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