Identity theft is far more prevalent than most Americans suspect. A 2018 online survey conducted by The Harris Poll reveals that nearly 60 million Americans have been impacted by identity theft at some point. Additionally, almost half anticipate that identity theft will prompt personal financial suffering in the next year.
The prevalence of identity theft is shockingly high, in part due to increasingly common data breaches that have recently hit major companies such as Equifax. However, pinning incidents to a single breach can be tricky, as a variety of other factors contribute to the problem.
The good news? You are not completely helpless. Yes, identity theft is common, and data breaches can increase your risk of being targeted. However, by employing a proactive approach to protection, you can minimize the potential for personal devastation.
Below, we’ve outlined a few of the most effective options for preventing identity theft.
1. Use Security Software for All Phones and Computers
If you’ve yet to install security software on your computer, it’s time to get started. This could be the easiest and most critical step you take towards protecting yourself online. Strong software can provide several layers of protection against devastating attacks such as phishing, viruses, spyware, and malware.
Your smartphone also warrants extensive security protocols. According to the Federal Communications Commission, one in 10 smartphone users have their devices stolen. Often, this leads to identity theft, as ample personal information is easily accessible from most mobile phones. Smartphones warrant just as much protection as PCs, so don’t hesitate to invest in robust security solutions.
2. Learn to Spot Scams and Spam
Today’s fraudsters may be clever, but many scams are surprisingly easy to spot once you’re aware of the signs. Vigilance is always necessary; scams can pop up anywhere and at any time.
How you browse the internet can leave you vulnerable to common scams, even if you think you’re adept at sniffing them out. Free Wi-Fi, in particular, should be used with caution. Data transmitted over public Wi-Fi is often unencrypted, and therefore, more likely to be targeted in cyber-attacks and other incidents. Other scams to be on the lookout for include the following:
- Tax scams in which thieves obtain IRS records to secure financial data or your Social Security number.
- Phishing scams leading to the takeover of your bank or credit card account.
- Child identity theft involving the Social Security numbers of young victims who have yet to establish credit scores.
- Synthetic identity theft, which involves merging real and fake information to create new identities, sometimes via personal details purchased on the dark web.
- Medical identity theft scams, often including false claims or other fraudulent documents that appear legitimate.
3. Use Strong, Unique Passwords – and Close Unused Accounts
Password protection is a huge point of weakness for the average internet user. A TeleSign report highlighted by Entrepreneur reveals that three out of four internet users rely on duplicate passwords. Furthermore, one in five continue to use login information that is over a decade old. Such practices place accounts at risk, especially as passwords serve as a first line of defense against identity theft.
Take a close look at your current password lineup and consider making a few changes. The ideal password will involve a string of random letters, numbers, and symbols. Avoid including your birth date or any other recognizable details from your personal life.
Coming up with and remembering all of this login information may seem like a hassle, but repetition should be avoided at all costs. Even a strong password can quickly be rendered ineffective through repetition on multiple accounts.
As you assign stronger passwords to your various accounts, determine which ones you actually use – and which could be closed for good. The more open accounts you maintain, the greater the chances of infiltration, and ultimately, a stolen identity.
4. Monitor Your Credit Score and Other Financial Information
Preventative measures are critical, of course, but it’s also crucial to respond quickly and strategically when any warning signs become evident. Look carefully at your credit score and history, as both may provide early clues as to whether your identity is at risk.
If you’ve yet to examine your credit history, you’re certainly not alone. According to a poll from Princeton Survey Research Associates, 34 percent of Americans have never bothered to check their credit reports. By neglecting this essential task, these individuals render themselves vulnerable to long-term interference from criminals, who may never be held accountable.
Even if you haven’t experienced identity theft, it’s important to stay on top of your credit score to ensure that it remains accurate. In a notable Federal Trade Commission study, 26 percent of respondents highlighted errors on their credit report, many of which were capable of impacting loan applications or interest rates.
5. Seek Data Backup Services Offline and In the Cloud
Backed-up data plays a key role in protecting digital information, and yet, it’s a move few internet users bother to make. If hackers gain control of sensitive information, significant data loss could ensue, prompting nearly as much devastation as the theft itself. Data backup and recovery services provide peace of mind; in the worst-case scenario, you can take comfort in knowing that backed-up versions of sensitive data remain safe.
Offline backups are valuable but also vulnerable to a variety of physical hazards. Backups should also be created within secure cloud frameworks to ensure that they remain accessible. A variety of excellent cloud backup options are available; examine offerings closely to determine which provide the best security at a reasonable rate.
6. Stay Alert When Visiting Websites and Making Purchases Online
When shopping online, do you carefully examine the websites you browse? Or do you shop haphazardly, granting little consideration towards where you share your address or credit card number?
Vigilant browsing is critical, regardless of whether you intend to make a purchase. How you interact with other internet users matters, no matter the website’s alleged purpose. Never supply those you do not know with personal information; you never know which details could come back to haunt you.
Seek Help from Trusted Data Security Experts
As you take extra steps to keep your identity safe, don’t hesitate to turn to NerdsToGo for advice. Our experts can help you adopt the solutions necessary to protect your privacy online. We can assist with cloud data backup services to encourage full coverage in the worst-case scenario. Our child internet protection services are also worth considering as you seek security for your entire family. Contact us today to learn how we can be of assistance in your quest for effective identity theft prevention.