Identity theft prevention is one of the most important things you can do. Identity theft is when criminals use personal information such as social security numbers, banking or financial account numbers, and passwords to steal money or obtain credit illegally.

It can range from the unauthorized use of credit cards online to sophisticated phishing scams and identity cloning. Unfortunately, identity theft is one of the most common forms of fraud in the United States and can have severe consequences on victims, including loss of money, identity confusion, and even jail time.

Experts estimate that identity thieves commit billions of dollars in fraud each year, leaving individuals and businesses on the hook for the debt they can’t pay. Thankfully, there are measures we can take to protect ourselves from identity theft, such as proactively monitoring our credit reports and refraining from responding to any suspicious emails that may have been sent by identity thieves seeking access to personal information.

Therefore, please watch your accounts and read on to protect yourself and your family better.

How Do Thieves Choose Identity Theft Victims?

Like hacking and other types of data theft, identity theft is usually a crime of opportunity, so you may be victimized simply because your information is available. The chances of someone directly targeting you are usually low.

However, thieves may target customers of certain companies for numerous reasons, such as:

  • The database was public or easily accessible.
  • The company is being targeted for various reasons by hacktivist groups.
  • The customers’ socioeconomic status or other demographics are appealing for further extortion.
  • There is demand for company information, and your information is caught up in it.

How Identity Thieves Get Your Information

Identity thieves can get your information by:

  • Stealing your wallet, bag, or mail.
  • Overhearing a phone conversation or eavesdropping in on a conversation.
  • Going through trash cans and dumpsters, stealing bills, invoices, and other sensitive documents.
  • Working for businesses, medical offices, colleges, or government agencies, and stealing personal information on the job.
  • Misusing the name of a legitimate business and calling or sending emails that trick you into revealing personal information to satisfy a fake requirement or qualify for a fake service.
  • Targeting personal information from people databases, social media, public resume sites, directories, yearbook publishers, companies that make class rings, school portrait agencies, publication companies, book clubs, standardized test preparation firms, and more.

How You Find Out Your Identity Has Been Stolen

Companies have different policies for notifying customers when they discover someone has accessed a customer database. But not all companies either notice or properly alert in a timely manner.

Unfortunately, identity theft can be performed easily without the victims knowing. However, these red flags will surely tip you off. You may find:

  • Mistakes on your bank, credit card, or other accounts. This includes charges and collection attempts.
  • Mistakes in the explanation of benefits from your health insurance.
  • Regular bills, account statements, payments, and other account confirmations don’t arrive on time.
  • Bills, charges, or collection notices for products or services you never ordered or received.
  • Calls from debt collectors about debts that don’t belong to you.
  • A notice from the IRS that someone used your SSN.
  • Notice from other account changes.
  • Mail or email confirmations about new bank accounts or credit cards.
  • Mail, email, or calls about accounts or jobs in your minor child’s name.
  • Businesses or property management companies turn down your applications or checks.
  • Banks or jobs turn you down unexpectedly for a loan or job.
  • Your credit card(s) unexpectedly get(s) declined.
Identity Theft Prevention Tips - How You Will Find Out Your Info Is Stolen and Used

Identity Theft Prevention – How to Protect Your Information

Unfortunately, there is no way to guarantee that you will not be a victim of online identity theft. However, you can minimize your risk by doing the following:

  1. Do not share your Social Security number with most businesses or services, even medical offices. Only use your SSN where you absolutely have to, like financial institutions.
  2. Avoid paper billing where possible and sign up for electronic statements.
  3. Read your bank, credit card, and account statements and the explanation of medical benefits from your health plan. Contact the business if a statement has mistakes or doesn’t come on time.
  4. Shred documents containing personal information you no longer need. Also, shred some non-personal paper into the mix before you throw them away.
  5. Regularly check your mail promptly or lock your mailbox.
  6. Use proper password protocols, security PINs, and security questions.
  7. Install and update antivirus and other security programs on all computers, tablets, and smartphones.
  8. Avoid making purchases, paying bills, or sending sensitive information over unsecured or public WiFi networks.
  9. Disable Bluetooth on devices when not in use.
  10. Don’t disclose information commonly used to verify your identity on social network sites like date of birth, city of birth, mother’s maiden name, and high school name.
  11. Avoid fraud and watch out for phishing scams.
  12. Fight skimmers by touching ATMs to see if all the parts are solid and not added on before inserting your card. Cover the hand typing your PIN. Look for suspicious holes or cameras.
  13. Purchase from reputable, established companies. Avoid interacting with malicious or questionable sites.
  14. Read your credit reports regularly. You have the right to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the 3 nationwide credit reporting companies. Order all 3 reports at once, or order one every 4 months by going to
  15. Don’t respond to emails, texts, and phone messages that ask for personal information or claim you won something out of the blue. Legitimate companies don’t ask for information this way, especially MFA codes. Delete the messages promptly.

What Do You Do If Your Identity Has Been Stolen?

Recovering from identity theft can be a long, stressful, and potentially costly process. To mitigate the damage, you need to respond as quickly as possible by doing the following:

  • Inform the companies, including banks and credit card companies, where you have accounts that someone may be using your identity. Find out if there have been any unauthorized transactions.
  • Close accounts you did not open so that future charges are denied.
  • Keep records of your conversations and all correspondence.
  • Check your credit report to see if there has been unexpected or unauthorized activity. Credit reporting agencies must give you a free copy of your report if it is inaccurate because of fraud. When you order, you must answer some questions to prove your identity. Have fraud alerts placed on your credit reports to prevent new accounts from being opened without verification. An initial fraud alert is good for 90 days. The 3 main credit reporting agencies are:
  • Create an Identity Theft Report with the FTC at or 1‐877‐438‐4338. Your completed complaint is called an FTC Affidavit. Take your FTC Affidavit to your local police or to the police where the theft occurred, and file a police report.
  • Get a copy of the police report. This will help against any debt collections that don’t belong to you. Furthermore, any impersonation of a federal officer is a crime, as is identity theft. Provide as much detailed information about the incident as possible, including any damages.
  • Students can report fraud to ED’s Office of Inspector General hotline at 1-800-MIS-USED (1-800-647-8733) or [email protected]. Special Office of Inspector General agents investigates fraud involving federal education dollars.

Even after all this, you still aren’t done. You need to consider other information that may be at risk. You may need to contact other companies, agencies, or official departments depending on what was stolen and from where.

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