You may be surprised to know that identity theft happened to 1,387,615 Americans in 2020 alone. And if that didn’t scare you, that number is only growing year to year. But what is identity theft really? And how does it really affect us in our day to day lives? Let’s talk about it.
What Is Identity Theft?
First, let’s talk about what identity theft is.
Identity theft happens when someone uses your personal information, without your permission, to gain something financially, medically, or even professionally.
It is important to note that identity theft isn’t JUST about money. In fact, one of the more common forms of identity theft is people taking social security numbers or birth certificates, updating them, and using them so they can get jobs, healthcare, and the like.
No matter what, identity theft is a serious issue, and can negatively affect you for years. So, to keep yourself from being a victim of identity theft, or to get back on track if your identity has been stolen, keep reading!
How Identity Theft Happens
As I previously mentioned, identity theft happens when someone steals your information to gain something for themselves.
But, how are they able to do this?
Identity thefts usually happen for a few reasons:
- someone is able to hack your computer files or email/social media,
- someone calls you and gets your personal information by pretending to be the government or bank,
- or someone steals your information from your wallet or swipes your credit card.
While there are other ways for identity theft to happen, these are usually the culprits.
This is why many companies, especially banks, test their employees with in house phishing scams to test their employees. They want to make sure employees aren’t falling for the typical tactics that identity thieves like to use.
Those most susceptible to identity theft are the elderly and those that use social media heavily.
For example, I regularly get spam calls. But some of those people have gotten smart enough to make their number appear more legit. I even got a call from the “IRS” once, and the person didn’t have a foreign accent or anything. Had I not known about this common IRS scam, I could have easily fallen for it. Luckily, I had read articles online about this common scam, so I knew what not to do.
So, how do you protect yourself and make sure your identity stays safe? There are quite a few things that you can do.
Password Protect Everything
Your phone? Make it password protected.
Your computer? Password protected.
Every single thing you do with technology needs to be password protected. Many social media sites and sites that require personal information (Gmail for example) also have ways to double authenticate when you sign in. I highly suggest using that option.
I know that it can be a hassle to have to go through 2 or 3 login screens just to be able to login, but it’s for your protection. Many of the apps I use on my phone are set for double authentication as well. So when I log in, the app has to text me a code that I then input into the app. That way, if someone tried to hack my apps, I would get a notification and could report it as fraud.
Use A Password Manager
Something else you can do is use a password manager. I personally use LastPass, but you can use whatever works best for you.
You should never use the same password for every single site, but it’s hard to remember what passwords go where, especially if you work online like I do! A password manager makes it easy to have different passwords, but still keep your accounts safe and make it easier for you to sign in.
Don’t Click On Suspicious Emails
Get an email from the IRS? I highly doubt it. Don’t be afraid to double check emails, who sent them, and whatever information they include. I’ve even gotten some fishy emails from “PayPal” before, and of course, they weren’t the ones that actually sent them to me!
If you come across these emails, make sure to mark them as spam and block the account that sent them.
Check Your Credit Often
The best way to make sure your identity hasn’t been stolen is to check your credit score. I personally check mine once a month with Credit Karma.
While it doesn’t give you the most accurate credit reporting, it DOES help you know if you have any suspicious accounts opened or if anyone has used your identity to open new accounts/get information.
Many of the credit checking websites also let you report wrong information, which can really come in handy if you see items on your credit report that shouldn’t be there.
Don’t Give Out Your Personal Information
Whatever you do, don’t ever ever ever give out your social security number if you can help it. I get it, it’s easier to fill out forms and information online. But, unless you completely trust the site you’re on, don’t do it.
And NEVER give out your personal information on the phone! I haven’t come across a single legit business to ask me for my social security number or super private information over the phone, and I talk to companies often!
Protect Personal Information
Check your mail often, shred old documents, and keep important documents locked in a safe that only you have the code or key to. That way, if anyone ever loots through your trash, mailbox, or home, they can’t get into those sacred documents.
And remember, don’t leave your wallet in the car. Always double check that you’ve cleaned out your car of personal items.
On another note, don’t carry too much in your wallet either. I used to keep my social security in my wallet, because I would forget it when getting a new job or signing up for school, etc. Well guess what? I lost it once, and realized how dangerous it could’ve been should someone try to use it. So now, I keep it locked away in a safe, and only bring it out when I absolutely need it (like when getting a new state license).
Get Identity Fraud Protection
The last thing you can do is sign up for a service like LifeLock to protect your personal information. I don’t think this step is the most important step to protecting your information, but it can be helpful.
The company will alert you if they see suspicious activity happening in your name or with any of the accounts you have. Most companies will also block hackers if they notice them trying to steal your identity, and will even reimburse you up to a certain amount if your identity is still stolen on their watch.
What To Do If You’ve Experienced Identity Theft
If you’ve experienced identity theft, and are unsure of what to do, this government article breaks down step by step what you should be doing. But, keep in mind that it’s easier to protect yourself in the first place, than it is to clean up the mess afterwards.
If your identity is ever stolen, you’ll basically have to cancel/delete everything, re-sign up for accounts, and even talk to debt collectors, the IRS, and more, which isn’t fun.
What Is Identity Theft?: The Bottom Line
Overall, there are many ways to protect yourself from identity theft, and even ways to fight back if it does happen to you.
These tips can keep your information safe and secure, and give you peace of mind so you can enjoy technology and the real world, without the hassle of fighting hackers.
Have you ever been the victim of identity theft?
AUTHOR Kimberly Studdard
Kim Studdard is a project manager for online entrepreneurs and small businesses. When she isn't spending time with her daughter and husband, or reading her growing pile of horror books, you'll find her working on her HR degree and working towards FIRE.