Chances are, if you haven’t had your identity stolen, you probably will soon — or you’ll know someone who has.
To date, 41 million Americans have had their identities stolen, according to Bankrate. And 49 million Americans personally know someone who has been affected by identity theft. As fraud continues to rise, Americans aren’t doing enough to stay secure from scammers.
Last month, after Yahoo announced 500 million accounts were hacked in 2014, many Americans checked out their credit reports, but didn’t do much else in terms of securing their identities.
If an identity thief has had your information for over a year, it’s probably a little late to check your credit report now. You should be doing that regularly to minimize damage.
But while regularly checking your credit report is important, you should also be more secure about your documents. Bankrate suggests regularly shredding documents that are no longer necessary or relevant, but contain sensitive information. You should also avoid joining Wi-Fi networks that are unsecured, Bankrate says.
Sometimes, your lack of security could come down to laziness.
“I think [it’s an] example of convenience versus security,” says Steven Grossman, VP of strategy and enablement at Bay Dynamics. “[Security is] certainly a great thing to do, but it’s an inconvenient thing to do.”
Another way to increase security, Bankrate says, is to freeze your credit account. Only 18 percent of us have ever requested a credit freeze, they say, and if you can document you’re an ID theft victim, you could freeze your credit for free through major credit bureaus.
Another major security step you should take is regularly changing your passwords. Make sure your passwords are different for every site you regularly visit, including your email, banking website, and anything that involves money transactions, including Facebook. Feel free to use a password generator and have them saved in a secure, safe place — even if that means writing them down!
How to tell you’ve been a victim
If you’ve ever had issues logging into your accounts, even through Facebook or Twitter, and noticed posts that you didn’t put up yourself or changes you didn’t make, even that is ID fraud, meaning someone gained access to an account of yours and made changes without your permission.
Sometimes, stores (both online and brick-and-mortar) alert customers of data breaches and how they could be affected by them. Target had a major one a few years ago. If your bank was alerted about a certain kind of breach, you may be issued a new credit or debit card. In some cases, you may just get alerted about suspicious activity.
If you’ve ever noticed suspicious activity, report it as soon as possible to avoid any major setbacks on your credit report. Alert your bank and place a fraud alert on all your credit reports, which can make opening credit lines in your name more difficult. You can also tell the Federal Trade Commission about your fraud, which will alert your local police department about the threat.