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How to Prevent Identity Theft

Dealing with identity theft feels like fighting an invisible enemy. With so many people having their personal information stolen, how can you prevent identity theft from happening to you?

The good news is there are steps you can take to protect your personal information. Let’s take a closer look at 13 ways to help prevent identity theft.

1. Check your credit report at least three times per year.

Staying informed is your first line of defense to help prevent identity theft. Did you know you can get a free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus once a year?

Here’s a way to check your credit every four months: Get a report from one company at the beginning of the year, another in the middle, and another at the end of the year. Then, start all over again.

Checking your credit report often will help you identify any odd activity that might pop up. Here are some identity theft red flags we recommend you look for on your credit report:

  • inactive accounts that suddenly have activity on them

  • a line of credit you didn’t open

  • incorrect personal information

  • a good-standing account in collections

  • a credit inquiry you didn’t apply for

If you see something strange on your credit report, take immediate action. You have the right to dispute any information that doesn’t look correct. Notify the credit bureau so they can look into the issue. They’ll contact the company in question and dispute the charge. Depending on what they find, you may then need to supply further documentation for their investigation.

2. Make sure your computer has updated antivirus software.

If you don’t stay up-to-date with antivirus software, you leave yourself open as a target. It’s just that simple. Protect your identity by routinely checking for updates and installing anti-keylogger software so no one can hack into your computer.

 Do you have the right insurance coverage? You could be saving hundreds! Connect with an insurance pro today!

If you want added protection, make a habit of logging out of any account you access on your computer or mobile device. We’re talking anywhere you use a username and password to log in.

Is it more convenient to stay logged in 24/7? Sure. But doing little things like this can give you greater peace of mind and help you prevent identity theft.

3. Make privacy a priority on social media.

Oh, social media. Some people just love to share every detail of their life without thinking twice about how public they’re being with their personal information. To be safe, set your privacy settings to the highest level.

Also, don’t share personal information like your exact birthday (including the year), address or your mother’s maiden name.

4. Keep your phone secure.

Since your phone contains so much of your personal information these days, it’s important to keep it secure. Make sure you take advantage of the passcode or thumbprint scan to get into your phone. Keep your Bluetooth turned off when you aren’t using it. And if you have an iPhone, register it with iCloud so you can remotely wipe your phone if it gets stolen.

5. Never use unsecured Wi-Fi.

As tempting as it might be to sit at Starbucks and sip your latte while going over your bank statements online—don’t! Unsecured, public Wi-Fi is just that: unsecured. Those sitting around you are on the same open network and can easily get access to your information. If you need to log on to your banking website, wait until you get home.

And while we’re at it, your home Wi-Fi must be secured with a password. Otherwise, anyone near your home can hop onto your network and gain access to your information. Don’t give a potential thief the opportunity!

6. Change your passwords every 90 days.

This includes passwords to your bank accounts, email and social media. Once a thief gets one of your passwords, they’ll try it on many other sites. Make your passwords difficult combinations of uppercase letters, lowercase letters and special characters.

Instead of trying to meet the minimum character count, make your passwords long. Use a phrase or a few random words strung together to really keep the hackers on their toes.

Try to use phrases that aren’t easy to guess. (Sorry, that means famous quotes and Bible verses aren’t good fallbacks). Get creative! Be sure to use a different password for each account. In other words, don’t use the same password for all your social media profiles, email addresses and banking accounts.

7. Check your online bank account every day.

Banks have systems that watch your spending patterns and regular charges, and they’ll flag your account if something irregular is going on. But it’s still important for you to log on every day and make sure there aren’t any strange charges connected to your account. You’re the first line of defense in preventing your identity (and money) from being stolen.

8. Don’t send bills from your personal mailbox.

Stealing mail directly out of that humble mailbox of yours is the easiest type of identity theft. So don’t put checks in your mailbox! Use the post office or a USPS mailbox. If a thief gets your bank account and routing number from a check you were mailing, it’s easier for them to attempt a fraud.

Grab any mail out of your mailbox as soon as possible, as thieves thrive on swiping those credit card mailers. Try to opt out of credit card preapproval mailers. And when it comes to utility bills, changing to paperless billing can help keep your details away from potential mailbox thieves.  

If you want further security, consider using a locked P.O. box at your local post office.

9. Don’t fall for phishing scams.

Don’t open emails that look strange or suspicious. These are often phishing scams using fraud to gain access to your personal information. Read email subject lines and the “from” address carefully before you open an email, click on the links, or download attachments. And always be on high alert if they ask for your personal or financial information.

10. Don’t forget about your kids’ information.

It’s sad, but true—even your toddler can fall prey to identity theft! Kids are easy identity theft targets because thieves correctly assume it will be a long time before the theft is detected. Kids aren’t credit active until they turn 18, so most parents never even know about the fraud until then.

Check out TransUnion’s free Child Identity Theft Inquiry. Fill out your child’s information, and you’ll receive an email back.

If it reports that your child has a credit file, that’s not a good sign. Your credit isn’t like your Social Security number. You’re not born with credit, so you’ll only have a credit report if you’ve ever used credit. If someone is using your kid’s Social Security number, take immediate action.

11. Pay attention to data hacks and breaches.

If you receive a notification about a data breach (like the Equifax hack or the Target data breach a few years ago), start paying extra attention. It doesn’t mean you’re a victim, but it does increase your risk. You can take proactive steps to strengthen your defense from potential future hacks by using our tips.

12. Guard your Social Security card and bank account numbers.

It should go without saying, but to prevent identity theft, protect your Social Security card and number and all other forms of identification.

The worst type of fraud is when someone has your unique name, date of birth and Social Security number. They can get a job, file taxes, and even receive medical care in your name.

Do everything you can to protect your Social Security number. Do you keep your Social Security card in your wallet? Don’t! If someone steals your wallet, that means they just stole your identity.

Oh, and make sure you don’t have your debit card PIN written down anywhere. That’s like leaving your keys in the car and wondering why it got stolen!

13. Monitor your medical history

A lot of people forget about medical identity theft, which is another major way thieves can steal information from you. It’s important you’re just as committed to safeguarding your health information as you are your other forms of identification.

Be sure to analyze your medical bills and check the explanation of benefits (EOB) statement from your insurance company.

Even with all these precautions, identity theft can happen to anyone. If it does, you’ll want someone in your corner who knows what they’re doing. That’s why we recommend RamseyTrusted provider Zander for identity theft protection. They assign a case worker to you if your identity is stolen, and they’ll do all the legwork so you can get your life back.

Knowing ways to prevent identity theft is one of the first steps to keeping you and your family safe. Take our five-minute Coverage Checkup today to see what you need (and don't need) and where to get the best coverage!

George Kamel

About the author

George Kamel

George Kamel is a personal finance expert and host of The Fine Print Podcast. Since 2013, George has served at Ramsey Solutions where he teaches on how to spend less money, save more, and avoid consumer traps. He is also the host of The EntreLeadership Podcast.

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