Identity theft occurs when your personal information such as your name, Social Security Number, driver’s license number, mother’s maiden name, usernames, passwords, and credit card number is used without your permission for committing fraud and other crimes.
It is quite a prevalent crime with over 9 million cases reported in the United States each year. The unfortunate thing about the crime is that victims often realize it has happened when it’s too late. It might take just a few seconds to become a victim of this crime, but it can take a long time to recover.
The one truly perfect way to prevent identity theft is not to use the Internet at all. However, this is highly impractical in the increasingly digital world of today. The following are 9 effective tips for preventing identity theft online.
1. Use Strong (Complex) Passwords
Strong passwords are the ones that are hard to crack. The time will take to hack your password will depend on how strong it is. A strong password is over 10 characters long, uses both lowercase and uppercase letters, and includes symbols and numbers. It should also have nothing to do with your personal information.
2. Use Unique Passwords for Each Website
You might have a strong password as described in the point above, but it will be of little use if you use it everywhere. You should generate strong and secure passwords for all your online profiles to prevent identity theft. It is obviously difficult to remember all the unique passwords, so make use of tools designed to help you remember them.
A program like OnePassword can help you manage all of your passwords easily – this has become an essential tool for me, as someone who earns their living online.
3. Use Antivirus/Antimalware Software
Keyloggers, backdoors, viruses, and other nefarious programs can allow unauthorized access to your system and can be installed in several ways. The best way to protect yourself against such is to install antivirus and antimalware software and update it regularly. If you are a Windows PC user, you can enable Firewall control and Windows Defender to protect your system.
4. Secure Your Social Media Accounts
Social media is one of the best platforms for cybercriminals looking to acquire confidential information. The first step to protecting yourself from identity theft is to either limit or avoid divulging valuable information on any social media platform. If you limit what you share on social media, you will reduce the chances of the wrong person gaining access to it.
5. Proper Disposal of Financial Documents
It is important to destroy any financial documents including receipts especially those that bear your account numbers. Destroy any unused or expired credit cards and blank checks from closed accounts. Poorly disposed documents containing your personal information are an easy way for cybercriminals to acquire your personal information and then use it for committing crimes online.
6. Watch Out for Phishing Websites
Phishing websites are those that present themselves as legitimate businesses, but are in reality fake and only looking for your information. A phishing website may look for your username and passwords but could also be looking for other personal information including your name, Social Security Number, etc.
While the request for information could be genuine, it should be a red flag if it was unsolicited. If you have questions pertaining to the authenticity of a website, visit the main web page of the organization and call their number to inquire.
7. Monitor Your Credit Profile
If you want to be vigilant about identity theft, you need to ensure that someone does not already have your personal information and is already using it. The sooner you are able to catch this the better. You are entitled to a free annual credit report from each of the 3 major credit reporting bureaus in the United States. Make sure that you read it carefully to check for anything that stands out.
8. Subscribe to Identity Protection Services
Today, you can find services designed specifically to help protect you against identity theft
. Due to the exclusivity of the services, it is a great way to protect your identity online. However, total identity protection is still wishful thinking, but if your identity is stolen, the identity protection services can help you clean up the mess.
9. Secure Your Wireless Network
Securing your wireless network has several benefits, but the main ones are to prevent identity theft and reduce fraud. If your wireless network is unsecured, an attacker can easily use it without your knowledge and can even view your website usage. This can allow the criminal to build a detailed profile of you as well as the websites you visit. Fortunately, you can easily secure your wireless network using a strong password as described above to guard against this.
The Bottom Line
Total identity protection is not possible, but you can at least do something to prevent identity theft. If you apply the 9 tips for protecting your identity discussed here, you will reduce the chances of having your identity stolen and will help you know instantly when it happens so that you can take the most appropriate action.