Finding the best identity theft protection tools for your needs.
If you pay any attention to news alerts, then you’re probably painfully aware of all the threats to your personal data. You’re probably also on overload from all the offers for identity theft protection. So, what exactly is the best way to protect yourself? And what are the best tools for identity theft protection?
What is identity theft?
Identity (ID) theft refers to any attempt to access and use your personal information, data, or accounts without your authorization. In the past, this was limited to physical threats – stolen social security cards, intercepted mail, forged checks. Now, with ever-evolving technology, there’s no end to the threats you face. Here’s just a few:
- Data breaches
- Phishing scams
- ATM and point of sale skimmers
Don’t know what these terms means? Find a full reference guide to the 5 types of identity theft to understand each threat you face.
What’s the best way to prevent identity theft?
Unfortunately, there’s not just one quick fix – there are literally dozens of things you need to do to protect your identity. Here’s the short list:
- Take all the proper measures you can to avoid making yourself a target. This includes keeping PINs safe, changing passwords, and shredding documents before you throw them away.
- Take advantage of all free tools offered to prevent identity theft. There’s free annual credit reports, free credit freezes and services like mysocialsecurity.gov. Depending on your accounts, you may also have free debit or credit card fraud protection and even free credit monitoring.
- Decide if you need any paid protection services. Credit monitoring is extremely useful for several reasons, including identity theft prevention. If you don’t have access to a tool for free, there are a variety of tools available that you can purchase. You also need proper antivirus software for your computer.
- Don’t keep your Social Security card in your wallet. Make a copy of your Medicare card and cross out all but the last four digits, then keep that version in your wallet except when you need the original at the doctor’s office.
- Don’t give up personal information just because someone asks — even at work, school, or the doctor’s office. First find out if they need it and what happens if you don’t give it, and what they do to protect your information.
- Don’t give out personal information over the phone or Internet unless you initiated contact and need to verify your identity.
- Before trading in or dumping your electronics, make sure you’ve deleted all personal information from them.
- Shred receipts, credit card offers, insurance forms, checks, bank statements, and any other paperwork with personal or financial details that you no longer need.
- Be in the habit of collecting your mail promptly, and have your mail held if you plan to be out of town.
- Keep your financial records in a safe place at home – digital records, too.
- Avoid clicking on links and attachments in email from businesses and people you don’t know.
- Avoid accessing sensitive information while on public Wi-Fi networks.
- Don’t use the same password on multiple websites.
- Regularly change passwords. Consider using password manager software so you don’t have to keep track of them all.
- Put password protection on your laptop and smartphone, and don’t leave them unattended in public. Always log out of your accounts when using someone else’s computer.
Free credit freezes as of 2018
One easy (and free) way to proactively protect your identity is by taking advantage of free credit freezes. In 2018, credit freezes became 100% free for all consumers nationwide. The credit bureaus are required to provide a convenient means for freezing and unfreezing your credit report at no charge.
Credit freezes lock down your credit report and prevent any credit checks while the freeze is in place. You can unfreeze your report when you want to apply for a loan or credit card and then freeze it back.
How to check for identity theft
Identity theft statistics show that half of ID theft crimes go unnoticed for at least a month. One in ten incidents goes unnoticed for more than two years. The problem with those statistics is that reporting ID theft promptly can be the key to minimizing out-of-pocket losses.
First, you need to be aware of the warning signs of identity theft. There are 15 financial signals that can tip you off to different types of identity theft. But with today’s technology, you don’t need to sit around and passively wait for these signals.
Tools for checking and protecting against ID theft
|Identity theft protection tool||Where to get it||What it does|
|Account fraud protection||Through your account provider (bank, credit union or credit card company)||Alerts you anytime there is suspicious activity on your account or you can contact the provider if you notice suspicious activity.|
|my Social Security (my SSA)||https://www.ssa.gov/myaccount/||Alerts you anytime someone uses your Social Security number to claim benefits; you can also check all info and activity related to your SSN.|
|Free yearly credit report (all three credit bureaus)||https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action||Review your reports to make sure you recognize all the accounts and public records. Since COVID-19, weekly reports are now free.|
|24/7 free 1-bureau credit report access||Experian |
|Two of the three credit bureaus allow you to access your credit report anytime.|
|Credit monitoring service||Through certain banks or credit unions, through certain credit card companies, or through an independent third-party ID theft protection company||Allows you to monitor one or all three credit reports, as well as track changes in your credit score.|
|Dark web scans||Experian offers a free one-time scan or you can use third-party dark web scan tools||Searches all known sites on the dark web for your personal data; alerts you if it appears anywhere and tells you how and when it was compromised.|
Learn to recognize the signs of identity theft
Aside from using identity theft protection tools, there are some easy ways to recognize if you’ve become a victim of identity theft. Debt.com assembled a list of 15 early warning signs that you can use to catch identity theft quickly.
Remember, the earlier you spot ID theft, the easier it is to avoid out-of-pocket expenses.
Understanding specific threats to your personal information
While we designed this page to provide general information about ID theft protection, there’s a lot more to cover when it comes to specific types of identity theft. Debt.com has created targeted guides for helping you understand specific threats and how to handle them.
Social Security Identity Theft
If a thief or cybercriminal steals your Social Security number, they can commit several different types of theft. They can get financing in your name, file income taxes to take your refund, and access your insurance. Taking all steps possible to protect your SSN is essential.
Tax Identity Theft
One specialized type of identity theft that happens when your Social Security number gets compromised is tax identity theft. This occurs when someone files taxes using your number and gets your refund before you can. We explain how to avoid and address tax ID theft.
Medical Identity Theft
If someone gets their hands on your insurance information, they can use your insurance to get procedures. Then your health insurance claims can be rejected because your policy is already maxed out. Learn how medical ID theft happens and what steps to take if you think you’re a victim.
Credit Fraud & Your Credit Reports
While someone stealing your Social Security number may be the most damaging threat, unauthorized account use is the most common. Credit fraud happens when someone accesses and uses your existing credit card accounts or opens accounts in your name. Understand the two main types of credit fraud and how to monitor your credit report to protect your identity.
Online Identity Theft
The Internet is immensely convenient, but it’s also dramatically increased the identity threats that consumers face. Protecting your identity online is crucial, whether you’re shopping, banking, or emailing. This guide explains all the cyber threats you face and how to prevent them.
Social Media Identity Theft
A new group of threats to your personal information revolves around social media. Someone hacks your accounts, steals your information to impersonate you, or accesses your account information to get secure data. That puts more than just your reputation at risk. Debt.com explains all the threats you face, and how to protect yourself and your children on social media.
Dealing with Data Breaches
Corporate and government data breaches have become a leading cause of identity theft in the past few years. There’s little you can do to prevent this type of theft because you can’t control a company’s security protocols, but there are ways to monitor for data breaches, so you can react quickly when they occur.
Article last modified on December 8, 2023. Published by Debt.com, LLC