Prevent identity theft with these simple tips
Help prevent Identity theft by following cyber security best practices. If you are the victim, discover how to start restoring your identity.
The Federal Trade Commission receives tens of millions of consumer reports about identify theft, fraud and other consumer protection issues a year. The number of identity theft and consumer records exposed that contained personally identifiable information (PII) has been increasing. Learn some ways to prevent identity theft and to keep your information secure.
Simple steps to help protect your identity
- Keep software up to date. Technology companies are constantly monitoring their software for weak spots or security breaches and often release updates to help fix those issues. Set up your devices for automatic updates.
- Install antivirus software and a firewall. Both are a great baseline in the battle against cybercrime; antivirus software detects malicious infections, while a firewall fends off outside access. Although a variety of free options exist, you may want to invest in a paid version that offers more updates.
- Check web addresses. Anytime you're providing financial information, such as credit card numbers, double-check the web address: It should begin with "https" and display a padlock sign, meaning you are securely transmitting information. And remember, if you're using a public network, your information is more vulnerable.
- Never click on suspicious links. Cyber thieves are masters at creating emails that imitate trusted vendors and sites. If an email is asking to verify personal information, demanding money or promising a refund, visit the website directly or call its customer service line to check its legitimacy. If you hover over a hyperlink in an email, a phishing scam will often reveal an unusual URL or one with a slight misspelling.
- Rely on two-factor authentication. Another powerful tool that adds an extra layer of security to logins and helps discourage cybercrime is two-factor authentication. It requires a username and password for the first factor and another piece of personal information, such as a security question or a one-time code sent to your phone, as the second factor.
- Don't send personally identifying information in email. Never email your credit card information, Social Security number, driver's license number or other financial or identifying information — especially if your email is unencrypted. Email is an easy way for hackers to snatch sensitive information.
- Review your bills and credit card statements. This will help identify any potential misuse of your identity in the month it happens so you can take immediate steps. Also, take advantage of the free credit report you are allowed each year. Afterwards, remember to save any documents you wish to keep in a secure location or shred them.
- Keep your social security card safe and get your mail. Place your Social Security card and other valuable documents like birth certificates in a fireproof safe or other secure place in your home. Make sure to retrieve and secure your mail every day so that you can review documents such as credit card offers, statements or other forms with identifying information. Shred these documents when you no longer need them. Remember to either have a trusted friend or neighbor collect your mail and put your mail on hold if away on a business trip or a longer vacation.
- Beware of shoulder surfing. Shoulder surfing happens when someone grabs valuable information by watching over your shoulder. This includes things such as ATM PIN numbers, credit card number, passwords and more.
- Protect your devices. Make sure your smartphone, tablet or computer has a password lock. Also avoid leaving them unattended in public places, and take precautions when using a public wifi.
- Protect your credit card. Do not leave your credit card out where others can see it and be on the lookout for credit card skimmers.
- Be smart about social media. Many apps on social media have fun surveys, games and quizzes with questions about favorite food, school, age or other personal details, to name a few examples. Be aware of those, as they are sometimes engineered to gather personal information about you.
Steps to take if you discover your identity stolen
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) IdentityTheft.gov site, below are some possible steps to take if you are worried that your identity was stolen.
- Contact the company where you think your identity fraud happened. Explain your issues and concerns and ask that they close or freeze your accounts. Then change all logins, passwords and PINs on your accounts.
- Contact the credit bureaus and place a fraud alert. These alerts can be placed by any of the three credit bureaus and will be in place for one year. When you place an alert with one of the bureaus, they will send requests to the other bureaus to do the same. The fraud alerts will make it difficult for anyone to open new accounts in your name.
- Report the identity theft or fraud to the FTC. Using an online form, you can report identity theft or fraud with the FTC. Based on the information you enter, they will create an Identity Theft Report and recovery plan.
- File a report with your local police department. After filing, request a copy of the police report. You might need these as you work to recover your identity.
- Start repairing the damage. With your FTC Identity Theft Report, contact each of the businesses where someone opened an account in your name and request it be closed. Plus, request they:
- Remove bogus charges from your account
- Remove all accounts from your credit report
- Consider adding an extended fraud alert or credit freeze. This will help prevent further use of your stolen information.
Consider ID restoration insurance
Prevention is the key to protecting your identity from being stolen and used by criminals. For added protection, insurance companies are now offering insurance to assist with identity restoration. For example, State Farm® offers Identity Restoration Insurance to make the recovery process easier, faster and less expensive. Contact your State Farm agent today to learn more.