Smart Identity Theft Protection Tips

Protect your personal data from ID theft and be proactive when it comes to credit fraud.

As of 2016, about one in every 16 Americans age 16 or older has been the victim of identity theft at least once in their life. Essentially, roughly 6-7% of consumers deal with some form of identity theft each year. With all the ways your identity can be compromised, it’s essential that you take the right identity theft protection steps. And, if identity theft happens, you also need to take steps to respond quickly in a way that minimizes the financial cost and time burden of ID theft.

Use Consolidated Credit's identity theft protection infographic to guard against ID theft and credit fraud

More ID theft protection tips

#1: Always take advantage of free annual credit report reviews

No, we are not telling you to sign up for one of those services that promises a free credit check, then charges you in three months. Instead, you want to go through the website mandated for free credit reports by the federal government. That site is www.annualcreditreport.com.

This official site lets you access all three versions of your credit report. You have three because each credit bureau (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) maintain their own version. Although they should say the same thing, mistakes happen. You want to review your reports for discrepancies that can hurt your credit score; if you find any dispute them.

At the same time, you also want to use this annual review to check for identity theft. The main areas you want to check are:

  1. If you have any accounts open in your name that you don’t recognize.
  2. You have aliases listed in your personal information that aren’t you.
  3. You have collection items for original accounts that you don’t recognize

If you find any of these, contact the credit bureau. They may just be a mistake or it could be a sign of identity theft. You can run this check every twelve months for free with no strings attached. This also helps you avoid the monthly cost burden of paid credit monitoring services.

#2: Catching theft early matters more for your debit card

If a thief gains access to your account, they can run up charges and drain your funds. If that happens with a credit, the maximum liability for you is $50. So, even if the creditor doesn’t just automatically waive charges that weren’t yours, the damage will be minimal.

That limited liability is restricted when it comes to debit cards and checking accounts. Time matters here, so catching the theft early is essential:

  • If you report a lost or stolen card with two business days, it limits your liability to $50
  • For reports within 60 days, the limit moves up to $500
  • After 60 days, there is no limit

In other words, if you’re one of those people that never checks your transactions, you could have your account drained. And you’d have no recourse to recoup the money. That makes checking your accounts regularly and paying attention to monthly statements essential.

The best ways to be vigilant against checking account fraud is to download the mobile app for your bank or credit union; then check it daily. You can also set up text or email alerts to notify you of large transactions. If you do these steps, and then check your monthly statements for transactions that you don’t recognize, you can limit any liability in the best way possible.

#3: Be extra careful with your identity around the holidays

The winter holidays are the busiest shopping season of the year. They’re also the worst time for ID theft. So many online transactions increase your risk for ID theft, so it’s especially important to check statements and monitor your accounts closely during the holiday shopping season.

You can also use these tips:

  1. Never buy merchandise from stores that you don’t know and trust
  2. Always look for trust logos and encryption standards when shopping e-commerce websites
  3. Consider using PayPal or a prepaid credit card when ordering items online; never use your debit card.
  4. Change your passwords directly before and after the holidays

#4: Be aware of other types of identity theft protection

Financial account fraud is the most rampant form of identity theft, but it’s not the only one. And you need to be aware of the others so you can take steps to protect yourself.

By far, the worst type is Social Security identity theft. This is where someone gets their hands on your Social Security number. Once they have it, they can open new accounts – credit cards, even mortgages – in your name. They can also apply for jobs in your name and file taxes to claim your tax refund. It’s a nightmare to handle, so take every step possible to protect yourself. We wrote an article to help you get started:

There’s also Social Media Identity Theft. This is where someone hacks one of your social accounts and uses your account to make you look bad. They can publish private pictures that you may not want shared and post offensive messages in your name. Always limit what you share online by adjusting the social account’s security settings. Change your social passwords often and don’t give this information to anyone.

The last type of theft to know about is Child Identity Theft. This is where someone uses a child’s Social Security number or identity to set up financial accounts. This includes family using a child’s ID to set up a utility bill or open a credit card. This type of theft is hard to catch because people assume their children don’t have credit data to report. So, you never bother checking until your child turns 18 and realizes their credit is ruined. You can set up the same Social Security protections we link to above for your child, regardless of their age.

Use this infographic

<a href="https://www.consolidatedcredit.org/infographics/identity-theft-protection/" target="_blank"><img src="https://www.consolidatedcredit.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/IdentityTheftCC-IB.jpg" alt="Use Consolidated Credit's identity theft protection infographic to guard against ID theft and credit fraud" class="img-fluid" /></a>