Did you know that an estimated 42 million cases of identity theft happened in 2021? According to the A.A.R.P., the overall cost of fraud and debt is around $52 billion a year, a significant increase since 2019, which was closer to $17 billion.
True, the overall population only has a 33% average rate of becoming a victim of identity theft. But it just so happens everyone knows someone who had to dispute fraudulent charges on a credit card, or had a negative item on a credit report that you don’t remember buying.
That’s exactly what we’re going to discuss in our complete guide to staying safe from online identity theft. How to reduce the chance of it happening to you and what to do if something ever comes up.
While everyone knows not to share private data carelessly, most people actually get compromised after making an honest mistake. For example, social security numbers should never be given to anyone, except government entities.
Exceptions might be banks, schools, credit agencies, car dealerships, employers, and the like, but generally, you don’t have to give a SSN to anyone online – even if they claim to represent law enforcement.
While most people might be on guard against scammers on the phone, far too many smart people succumb to phishing sites online. In your determination to dispute a charge, you might accidentally enter your SSN or other private data into a malicious site or software program.
Usually, if scammers can manipulate fear or strong emotion, you make impulsive decisions.
For that matter, although most scammers cannot guess your password, if they use special malware, they can eventually crack the code. This is why you’re encouraged to not only change your passwords periodically, but also to avoid using the same password over and over again.
You can also use an authenticator program to protect your login information.
For more on creating a strong and secure password see this University’s page on password security.
Almost everyone has experienced a notification about using a new device from Google. And while most people don’t worry too much about Google Mail, and might find it frustrating, auto-notifications are a lifesaver when it comes to your card being charged, where, and when.
Your bank and credit company probably offer notifications on demand for all your transactions. That way, you can dispute them within minutes of the fraud activity happening. Even if you buy an item by accident, most companies will remove the charge if you contact them within the same day.
Some credit card companies, as well as lending institutions offering credit cards, have their own identity theft protection service and include them as a free service.
For example, one online lender called SoFi offers cell phone insurance and a “Mastercard ID Theft Protection” program that protects all valuable data and looks for fraud red flags.
Don’t underestimate the threat of someone stealing credit card applications, snail-mail letters, lost cell phones, and other paper records. Medical statements, bank statements, and even subscription magazine letters may contain sensitive information about your name and address.
For the best results, shred all mail before throwing it away.
You can also check your credit reports regularly just to make sure there are no outstanding items on your profile. You can use a trusted site like AnnualCreditReport.com to review your score.
If your ID is ever stolen (and it might be one day even if you’re careful, so don’t freak out!) then call the credit card company and tell them what happened. Even if you lost your wallet but expect to pick it up within a few hours, it’s still best to freeze the account until the company can follow protocols for your safety.
Prepare and Stay Ahead
The fact is no one can really predict when it happens, so the best thing to do is to be prepared for the worst-case scenario, protect yourself with standard security protocols, and take steps to resolve a fraud situation if and when it happens.
Researching the most common scams and how to stop them as soon as you see the bait will help keep your business safe.
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