Updated August 27, 2021
Identity theft affects millions of consumers every year. From stolen medical records to account fraud, thieves have gotten stealthier in their crimes, robbing innocent consumers of their good names and doing serious damage to their credit scores.
What are the best ways to protect your identity? Here are eight smart strategies for safeguarding your credit and ensuring your personal information security.
1. Get Eyes on Your Credit Reports
Keep yourself in the know by routinely monitoring your credit reports to look for inaccuracies, accounts you didn’t authorize or other suspicious activities. If you see anything strange, from an account that you didn’t open to a name change, dispute it immediately.
Disputing errors won’t hurt your credit scores, and neither will checking your reports regularly.
2. Give Them the Freeze
Freezing your credit reports will block any new potential lenders from having access to them until you either lift the freeze or grant authorization to a particular user. While a credit freeze is one of the best ways to protect your identity, it isn’t 100% fail-safe. This is because there are less reputable lenders that don’t bother to check credit before approving a loan.
You can freeze your credit reports by going online and accessing the credit freeze page for each credit bureau. (ScoreSense members can access the Credit Freeze Center, where information about all three bureaus is available in one place.)
3. File a Fraud Alert
If you place a fraud alert on your credit, you’re telling a creditor or lender that it should take steps to confirm your identity before issuing a loan or credit card.
When there’s a fraud alert on a credit report, the business will usually call you to verify your identity before issuing any credit. An initial fraud alert is free and stays on your credit reports for 1 year, at which time you can renew it.
4. Keep Your Numbers Private
A Social Security number (SSN) can be used to open a new credit card account or loan, so keep your digits private. Don’t share your SSN with anyone over the phone or via email.
The same can be said for giving out your credit card number over the phone or sending it via email. Always use caution when giving away information to unverified retail or business representatives.
5. Mix Up Your Passwords
One of the most efficient ways of keeping thieves away is to use complex passwords. Create passwords that contain at least 12 characters and include a mix of numbers, letters and symbols. Also, avoid using the same password for more than one account.
6. Use Credit Instead of Debit
If your debit card information is stolen, you have no time to react because the money is automatically taken out of your account. A credit card offers greater fraud protection, and unauthorized charges can be disputed.
7. Avoid Autofill
While autofill saves time, it’s better to avoid storing your credit card information in case of a cyber breach.
8. Sign Up for Identity Theft Monitoring and Credit Monitoring
Identity theft monitoring is a service where a third party monitors websites and records to see if your name or personal information is being used. If someone uses your personal information — SSN, driver’s license, credit or debit card, etc. — you’ll receive an alert so you can take action.
You can also sign up for credit monitoring so that you’re alerted anytime your credit report has a new credit inquiry, new account, new public record and more.
With vigilance and persistence, you can often outsmart criminals and keep your identity and personal information safe.