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Are You at Risk for Identity Theft? In 2020 alone, there were more than 1.4 million identity theft reports filed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Luckily, there are things you can do to better protect yourself from someone using your identity. Before you can start being proactive, you need to understand how identity theft happens, what it can do to your finances and how to secure your personal information against the most common cyber threats.

How Does Identity Theft Happen?

Identity theft happens when someone gains access to your personal information, like your Social Security number, birthdate, debit PINs and other data, to willfully commit fraud. They may try to open a new credit card in your name, use your information to apply for loans and other lines of credit or rack up charges and debt all associated with your information.

Identity theft can happen in many different ways. One common technique, called “phishing”, occurs when you receive a message from someone trying to trick you into providing sensitive data like financial information or account passwords. Fraudsters can also access your information by stealing your mail or collecting personal information through phony websites or data breaches.

How often does identity theft happen?

Identity theft impacts 1 out of every 20 Americans every year and, unfortunately, many people don’t detect identity theft until the damage has already been done. That’s why it’s important to be proactive and take steps to reduce your risk.

How to Minimize Your Risk of Identity Theft

Safeguarding your personal information is easier than it looks. Here are some tips for protecting your identity:

Create Unique Passwords for Each Account

Make it as difficult as possible for cybercriminals to access your online information. Create unique passwords with a combination of capital letters, numbers and symbols for each account you have online, and avoid reusing or sharing passwords. This makes the password itself more difficult to guess.

Check Your Credit Report Often

Each year, you can request a free credit report from each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies – Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. Regularly reviewing your credit report for any new accounts or large inquiries that you didn’t make can help you spot suspicious activity and may indicate identity theft. Go to AnnualCreditReport.com to request yours and report any unusual activity as quickly as possible.

Review Your Credit Card and Bank Statements Regularly

Thanks to the ease of online shopping, fraudsters can access your credit or debit card numbers to make purchases and have orders shipped wherever they want. Regularly reviewing your credit card and bank statements can help you identify theft faster and notify the bank of any fraudulent charges.

Don’t Leave Mail Sitting in the Mailbox

One of the easiest ways for people to access your personal information is by intercepting your mail. If you receive paper credit card or bank account statements, make sure to pick up your mail deliveries as quickly and often as possible. You can also enroll in paperless billing and statements to further protect yourself.

Shred Old Documents With Sensitive Information

Don’t toss old documents in the trash. If you do, you increase the risk of identity thieves intercepting your sensitive information. Instead, buy a paper shredder or attend a shredding event in your area to destroy any personal data before throwing it away.

Use a Secure Wi-Fi Network at All Times

Internet-enabled devices are not always the most secure technologies. Before you make an online purchase or enter personal details on a website, make sure you’re connected to a secure Wi-Fi network. If you’re out and about, use your mobile phone network instead of a public Wi-Fi connection.

Only Make Purchases From Trusted Websites

One of the most common scams cybercriminals run is tricking people into buying from a sham website designed to take your money or steal your credit card information. Before you make a purchase online, research the website. See what others have to say about their products, shipping times, return policies and customer service. If you see nothing but negative reviews, it may be time to shop elsewhere.

How to Check if Someone is Using Your Identity

The sooner you can find out and report someone using your identity, the easier it will be to stop and repair the damage. Luckily, there are a few tell-tale signs that indicate your identity has been stolen, including:

  • New or Unauthorized Accounts on Your Credit Report: If you notice new lines of credit or accounts that you didn’t authorize, someone may be using your identity. Check your credit report often and report any unusual activity.
  • Bank Account Withdrawals You Didn’t Make: If you see mysterious withdrawals posted to your account statement, someone likely has access to your personal information. Notify your bank immediately.
  • Strange Charges on Your Credit Card: Review the charges your statements each month. If you see any items you didn’t authorize, it could mean either your card information or your identity was stolen. Notify your credit card issuer and let them guide you through the process of reporting fraud and getting a new card.
  • Collections Calls: If you start receiving calls for debts you don’t owe or didn’t authorize, check your credit report immediately and secure your personal information.
  • Filing Fraudulent Tax Returns: You may be at risk if you receive tax return information that has already been filed without your knowledge or approval.
  • Acquiring Identity-Related Documents: You may be a victim of identity theft if you receive strange notifications about obtaining identification-related documents, such as health insurance cards or your state ID.

If you notice any of these issues, notify the proper authority then call your insurance agent and see what resources you have through your home insurance policy. Do NOT provide personal information over the phone or online without confirming you are speaking with someone from the bank, credit card company or credit bureau.