money·5 min read

5 Simple Ways to Prevent Identity Theft

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Design: theSkimm | Photo: iStock
Mar 31, 2022

There are plenty of horror stories about having your identity stolen. Ruined credit scores, mountains of debt, and, not to mention, losing all your cash. Identity theft (aka when someone uses your personal information to impersonate you or steal your financial assets) is no joke and can happen to anyone. But identity theft can impact more than just your finances. There are other types of impersonation you should also pay attention to. 

What types of identity theft should I look out for?

Financial identity theft

This is the most common type of identity theft. It’s when criminals use your personal information for financial gain. They can buy goods or services using your stolen credit card info or open a line of credit under your name. Think: Getting your wallet stolen but on a larger scale. On top of that, when criminals rack up purchases on your card and send you the bill, you can find yourself in debt

Medical identity theft

When someone uses your health insurance to cover their medical expenses. Although not as common as financial identity theft, this is a fast-growing problem. In large part, because a thief using your info but (likely) not paying your bills, wreaking havoc on your credit.

There are also complications when it comes to your medical records (and the ability to create false medical info), which can lead to complications during your own medical procedures. Think: Someone enters their blood type using your medical identity, creating issues if you were to need a blood transfusion in the future. Fun on top of fun.

Child identity theft 

Since children don’t typically have a credit history or spending patterns, making purchases or opening up accounts in their name doesn’t usually trigger any suspicion from banks. Often, perps of this crime are family members or others close to the child. What usually happens: The fraudster uses a child’s SSN to open a line of credit or take out a loan — and racks up debt in the child's name. Typically, it’s only when the child is old enough to open up a line of credit that they find out that their credit score has been ruined. 

Criminal identity theft

Sometimes, when criminals are caught doing an illegal activity, instead of presenting their own information to the cops, they present someone else's. The illegal activity can be anything from presenting a stolen driver's license if pulled over to assault. What that means for you: you could be held liable for the crime the perp has committed.

That’s A LOT. How do I protect myself from identity theft? 

Don’t panic. Not only are there ways to stop criminals in their tracks, but there are also ways to prevent them from getting their hands on your identity in the first place.

Keep your personal info under lock and key 

It’s probably obvious that you shouldn’t be posting a photo of your credit card on Insta. But there are other ways you could be giving away your info to thieves that might not be as easy to spot. Like improperly trashing bank statements, health insurance cards, receipts, or other sensitive docs. You should shred any piece of paper that has your personal info on it. Dumpster divers are real and they’re not afraid to root through expired leftovers and moldy bread to get to your info.

And be sure that you’re not giving out your private info online, in public, or over the phone. By asking a few seemingly innocent questions like your childhood pet’s name or where you grew up, fraudsters can figure out the security questions to your bank accounts. 

Change your passwords (and switch up your security questions) often

Seriously. We mean it. You’ve got to update your middle school password at some point.

Some security experts say that using weak passwords can put you at high risk for identity theft. And make sure you don’t use the same password for every single account you have. That way if someone gets a hold of the password to your Gmail account they don’t also have the password to your Chase account. And if you need help remembering all your different passwords, try using a tool that stores them all for you. 

Stay alert

Check your credit report and bank accounts often. A good rule of thumb is to check your accounts weekly and then build up to a daily cadence. That way, if you quickly spot an irregularity in your records — like unpaid medical or credit card bills — you have the chance to do something about it before any real damage is done. PS: If you tell a bank about a strange charge ASAP, they’ll refund you the charges. No harm, no foul. 

Try a credit freeze

A credit freeze is great way to prevent criminals from stealing your child’s identity. By putting a freeze on your child’s credit, you’re preventing future fraud from happening by making it so that people can’t view their credit report. And so a thief can’t open a line of credit under their name. As long as they’re under 16, you can open a line of credit under their name and then freeze it until they’re old enough to make their own accounts.

Use an identity protection service

Sometimes information leaks are just plain unavoidable. So as an extra precaution, it’s always good to invest in an identity protection service that constantly monitors your credit reports, bank accounts, and even public records for any possible instances of identity theft. If they see something, they say something. 

Should I be worried?

No, but fraudsters definitely like to take advantage of people who don’t keep their info to themselves or check their credit reports as often as they should. So be careful not to make yourself an easy target for thieves. And if for some reason you do end up a victim of identity theft, don’t panic. Report identity theft by getting in contact with the Federal Trade Commission (aka the FTC). They’ll help you figure out a way to get your identity back. We’ve also Skimm’d a step-by-step guide on what to do if your identity has been stolen. Because you never know. 

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Identity theft is no walk in the park. But don’t worry: you can protect yourself as long as you stay alert, know what to look out for, and change your old passwords. 

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