What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is illegal conduct where someone steals your personal information, such as your name, social security details without the person’s consent. The fraud will be committed in your name and your reputation may go down the drain. Identity thieves use the stolen identity to access medical services, apply for credit, or file for taxes. It can be very expensive to restore your damaged reputation after someone steals your identity. It involves a lot of investment of cash and time. In most cases, you may not be aware that you are a victim of identity fraud until you are denied loans or a transaction is denied. There are instances where thieves will change the address on your credit card. They will continue to use the card and the bill will go to them. Unfortunately, they will never pay the bills and this will accumulate a huge debt in your name. This will gravely affect your credit.
Types of ID Theft
There are several common types of ID theft that may affect you.
- Child ID Theft
Thieves may steal a child’s ID and use it for many years. Since children do not file for taxes or apply for credit, it may be difficult to detect. In most cases, it may go undetected until the child becomes an adult.
- Medical ID Theft
You are sometimes vulnerable to medical ID theft if you are a beneficiary of health care services. ID thieves can use your medical insurance member number or Medicare ID to access health care from your healthcare provider. The thief can also use your identity to issue a fraudulent bill to your health care provider.
- Tax ID Theft
This happens when an ID thief uses your social security number to file false tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service.
- Social ID Theft
This type of identity theft is very common and the victims are people who use social media a lot. A thief may hack into your account, change the password and use it to do fraudulent activities. They may also create a fake account with your name and photos and pose as you on social media.
- Senior ID Theft
The victims, in this case, are the elderly. They are vulnerable to ID theft because their information is frequently accessed by medical officers and staff at elderly homes. Thieves can easily access this information and steal their identity.
How to Prevent ID Theft?
Considering the serious consequences posed by identity theft, it is important to take steps to protect yourself from this fraud.
- Safeguard your social security number
Your social security number gives access to all your personal information. The height of your data protection is to protect this number. Do not carry this card around if you do not need. Only carry it to places you will be asked to provide it.
- Use Strong Passwords
Do not use your date of birth, name, the name of a relative, pet, and anything that can be easily guessed as your password. Your password should also be at least 8 words. It should be a combination of letters; both capital and small letters, numbers, and symbols. This will make it difficult to guess and the thief will spend a lot of time guessing the password.
- Freeze or lock your credit
Freeze your credit with all three credit bureaus. Freezing your credit will restrict access to your account so new credit files cannot be opened until you unfreeze your account. You will only pay a small fee for freezing your account. You can also lock your account. This is easier compared to freezing your account. You can lock your account via an app. This app has been made available by the three credit bureaus. You can lock your account on your smartphone at no cost.
- Do Not Share a Lot of Information On Social Media
You should limit the amount of information you put on social media. Names of your relatives, contact information, and other vital information can be made private or visible to friends only. You should also not click on links in emails if you are not sure of the source. Clicking links can give out the information on your phone or personal computer to the thief. Clicking some links also install spy apps on your phone or personal computer.
- Shred unnecessary documents that contain vital information
You should shred documents that are no longer useful. These include old credit reports, credit card, and bank statements. You can also make a habit of shredding junk mails. Always take your receipt when you use the ATM. Do not leave it in the bin provided. You can destroy it when you get home.
- Protect your phone with passwords
Your mobile phones contain your account details, credit card details, and other vital information. Protecting your phone with passwords prevents strangers from accessing your messages and chats. Your phone’s Bluetooth should also be off unless you are using it. Enable the two-factor identification on your phone. You should also be careful when you public Wi-Fi since your data is visible when you use them. You can protect your data on public Wi-Fi by updating your firewall and sharing settings. You should also desist from downloading random apps whose source cannot be confirmed. Some apps contain malicious software that can collect your passwords and other vital information.
- Check your credit report often
The three credit report bureaus allow one free copy each company every 12 months. This means you can access three credit reports within 12 months. You can space them out in 4 months’ intervals so that you can check your credit report regularly. It is essential to check your report regularly so that you can report discrepancies and wrong information on the report.
- Shop cautiously
Your credit card PIN is private information. Do not share it with anyone. Do not keep the PIN with the card too. It may be helpful when you keep your PIN with the card in case you forget your PIN. However, it is a risky act. You will be giving access to your card to wherever finds it when you lose it. You should also know where your wallet is at all time. It is also risky to keep your wallet in places that they can be easily picked. When you shop, do not keep your wallet in your coat pocket. When shopping online, check to see if the server is secure. Unsecured servers make the information you submit online vulnerable to thieves.