Tips on protecting yourself against Identity Theft

Not too long ago identity theft seemed a distant threat and was something you heard about but never thought twice of seeing what you needed to do to protect yourself. Those days are definitely gone all thanks to increasingly sophisticated phishing and theft techniques, as well as hacking of customer databases at major retailers, banks, etc.

In the past two years alone, one individual had received seven notifications of hacks against retailers and others that included her personal data! “So far,” she says, “there’s been no identity theft, but we’re vigilant and well protected.” The latest estimates suggest the personal information of more than 13 million Americans ends up in the hands of criminals every year, and every two seconds another person falls victim. The crime takes on many guises but the most common forms are claiming benefits and tax refunds using forged documents, the use of stolen credit and debit card numbers for fraudulent purchases, and taking out loans and other forms of credit in a victim’s name.

It’s not just the financial cost that victims suffer but also the sheer emotional pain of trying to put things right. In a worst case, it can take years to sort out. What should you do to protect yourself? If you do all of the things we’ve listed below, you could substantially reduce the risk of falling victim. You can never completely eliminate that risk.

Here are what we consider the five keys to identity theft protection


1. Educate yourself and become knowledgeable on identity theft. There are many free online resources to keep yourself up to date. There’s also Scambusters.

You can also sign up for alerts and get more information from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The Commission has a useful guide on what to do if you discover your personal information may have been compromised.

The IRS also offers help and advice, which is particularly important in what is turning out to be another busy year for identity-related tax fraud.

If you are a pretty good computer user and really interested, you could also set up a Google news alert based on the phrase “identity theft” and Google will send you a list of key stories every day containing the phrase.

2. Be very careful. Any time you use your card, online or off, sign on to your web accounts or give information about yourself, including your Social Security number, think about who you’re giving it to. Do you know this individual or company? Are you sure they are who they say they are? Are you on a secure Internet page that uses “https” in the address?

When you insert a card into an ATM machine, check if the machine seems to have been tampered with. You can also find information online on what to look out for when it comes to machines that have been tampered with.

3. Use and regularly update security software on your PC to stay safe.

In most cases, this will stop attempts to steal confidential information stored on your hard drive. It may also alert you if you’re visiting a suspicious website.