Have you ever received a call from what seems to be a government agency or your bank asking you for your social security number or some other personal details? Many such calls are made by identity thieves and scammers who are becoming more sophisticated than ever; you’ve just got to learn to outsmart them!
According to some statistics, the Federal Trade Commission received about 5.7 million total identity theft and fraud reports this year alone; 1.4 million were identity theft cases.
According to other reports, about 1 in 3 Americans have been victims of identity theft at some point. This is much more than the global average and shows that there’s a higher chance of your identity being stolen if you’re an American.
Here’s everything you need to know about it.
What Is Identity Theft
Identity theft is basically when someone steals your identity by obtaining your personal or financial information. They then use this information for fraud, such as unauthorized purchases or transactions from your account.
Typically, those involved in identity theft try to steal personal information like bank account information, credit card details, or social security number. With the relevant details, identity thieves can pose as you commit several different types of identity fraud that affect your finances, credit, and reputation.
What Are Some Different Types of Identity Theft
There are different types of identity theft that you should be aware of. Some of these are more common than others; the more you know, the better your chances of preventing them.
Social Security Theft
This is one of the most common identity thefts in the U.S. This is basically when your social security number is stolen and used to apply for loans and credit cards. It can also be used to gain access to benefits like disability benefits or other medical benefits, for instance.
Financial Identity Theft
This basically refers to a situation where your identity is used to gain financial benefits, including services, products, or even credit. This is also an extremely common form of identity theft, with people losing billions of dollars every year due to financial identity theft.
Tax Identity Theft
This is another kind of theft that happens with your social security number as well as other personal information. The thief uses your information to file tax returns to collect refunds in your name. If you regularly pay taxes, make sure this doesn’t happen to you!
Medical Identity Theft
Medical identity theft is exactly what it sounds like. It’s when people receive healthcare using your name and personal information. This isn’t just prescriptions refills; it can also be doctor or E.R. visits, medical procedures, and so on.
Child Identity Theft
Child identity theft is very common, and in all instances, it’s done by people close to the children. This is basically when a child’s information is used for financial gains like obtaining loans, finding employment, or even obtaining property or other benefits.
Synthetic Identity Theft
Synthetic identity theft is becoming more common these days, and it does take significantly more effort. In this type of identity theft, the thief uses real information from you or other and combines it with fake information to create an entirely new identity.
The new identity is then used for identity fraud like opening unauthorized accounts and so on.
How Can You Tell If You’re a Victim of Identity Theft
Many warning signs should alert you about identity theft. The more you know about these red flags, the faster you can act to save your personal information and finances.
Here’s what you need to look out for:
- Changes to your bank statement that aren’t familiar to you.
- Credit card charges you don’t recognize.
- Loans in your name that weren’t taken out by you.
- Calls from debt collectors about debts you have nothing to do with.
- A tanking credit score that you’re unable to explain.
- Checks bounce more frequently.
- Calls to verify purchases you’ve never made.
- Your health insurance benefits are all used up.
- Stolen income tax refund.
- Missing mail from your mailbox.
- Stolen ID cards
- Medical bills you can’t verify.
- Inaccurate medical records.
- Being unable to sign in on your accounts.
- Receiving bills for things you’ve never purchased.
- Receiving fraud alters.
- Receiving emails about data breaches.
- Authentication alerts from accounts you haven’t opened.
- Suspicious login from unknown devices.
- Your social security benefits are missing.
- Insurance statements that don’t make sense.
- Rejected tax returns.
- There’s an arrest warrant out for you.
Steps You Can Take to Prevent Identity Theft
Identity thieves keep switching up their tactics, and this may make it very difficult for you to keep up and prevent identity theft. However, it’s not impossible, and there are some proactive steps you can take to make things difficult for potential thieves.
Here’s what we suggest:
Make Sure to Freeze Your Credit
Did you know that it costs nothing to freeze your credit? You can do it at all big credit bureaus, including TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. Freezing your credit will essentially restrict anyone from accessing the records; therefore, no one will be able to open new credit files except you
When you need to open a new account, you can unfreeze your credit through a hassle-free process and freeze it again when you’re done.
Always Be Ware of Spoofing and Phishing Attempts
From emails to phone calls, scammers are getting very smart with their tactics. They’ll try to make you think they’re calling from legit government offices, agencies, or businesses. Most scammers ask for personal information.
If you find yourself in a similar situation where you can’t be sure about the source of the call or mail, try to call back on an official number or respond to an official email address taken from their authentic website.
Get Creative with Your Passwords
It can be tempting to use the same simple password for all your accounts but try to refrain from doing that. Instead, try to come up with unique and complex passwords for all your accounts.
Also, keep in mind that finding answers to most security questions is easier than you think. Your mother’s maiden name or your high school best friend’s name isn’t that impossible to find. So, look into better authentication steps and put a two-step authentication system in place for critical accounts.
Never Share Your Social Security Number
This goes without saying, but you must never share your social security number with anyone. It’s like the key to all your personal data; therefore, it must be kept safe at all times. Of course, some government agencies or other investment advisors may request the social security number from you. In such cases, you should ideally avoid giving it to a random stranger over the phone on calls you haven’t initiated.
Additionally, always ask people why they need your social security number; probe until you’re absolutely satisfied with the answer. Even if you think their request is well-justified, ask them how they plan on protecting your social security number for you.
It’s also highly advised that you do not always carry your social security card on you. If you get mugged or lose your wallet, it’ll just become more stressful for you.
Make Sure You Have Transaction Alerts Turned On
Your bank and other financial institutions will always give you the option to sign up for email and phone alerts for transactions. Don’t overlook the importance of these alerts since these are typically real-time updates and can alert you right away if there’s an unauthorized transaction.
Keep An Eye on Your Mailbox
We receive a lot of important information in our mail. Yes, that’s right, we’re talking about actual mail received at your physical home address and not just your email address. The mail you receive could be important bank notices with your confidential financial information—make sure no one sees this!
Mail getting stolen isn’t exactly unheard of, so make sure to use lockable mailboxes or even consider getting your mail held when you’re traveling. Also, you can select paperless billing wherever possible to avoid getting important account information in your mail.
Shred Every Document You Discard
Believe it or not, identity thieves have the time to go through garbage to find any documents and financial reports you’ve thrown out. These could be your credit card statements or your investment reports, with all your critical financial details on them.
Make sure that all your documents are shredded before you throw them out, especially those involving your finances or transaction details.
Use Digital Wallets Whenever Possible
Using credit cards and debit cards in public can be dangerous. Identity thieves could literally be standing over your shoulder looking in on your pin code. Consider using a digital wallet instead. A digital wallet is basically an app with digital versions of debit and credit cards.
A digital wallet can be used to shop almost anywhere, both online and offline. Moreover, since all the transactions with these are encrypted, there are almost no theft risks.
Keep A Close Eye on Your Medical and Financial Statements
Most people don’t really give attention to the financial statements they receive. In fact, many of us may not even realize this if we don’t receive a bill or statement that we were supposed to get in our mail. In such cases, it’s very important to call and check with the relevant department or institution to ensure your statement isn’t stolen.
Also, try to take some time out to review statements to ensure you recognize all transactions. At least make sure to review the big figures.
Check Credit Reports Weekly
It’s very easy to access and review weekly credit reports from all major credit bureaus, so make sure to do it. Ideally, you should be looking for signs of fraud and checking if all accounts are those that you recognize and if they’re being reported correctly.
Be Careful When Using Public Wi-Fi
Whenever using public Wi-Fi, keep in mind that hackers and identity thieves may be able to monitor your activity. This is why you should never use it for sensitive transactions, banking, or even for online shopping.
In cases where you have no choice but to use public Wi-Fi, make sure to use a VPN to establish a secure connection before making any transactions.
Why Use My Patriot Shield for Proactive Identity Protection
Several different providers offer VPN services, identity theft protection and insurance, and a lot more, but My Patriot Shield is different. The reliable VPN service offers it all with excellent pricing plans.
At My Patriot Shield, you don’t just get a privacy-assured VPN. Still, you also get secure backups, top-notch identity protection, and even identity theft insurance with coverage of up to $1,000,00O.
My Patriot Shield is developed to safeguard your identity around the clock. From high-risk transactions to debit and credit card or social security fraud, you stay shielded!
With the best monitoring technologies and proactive risk mitigation, My Patriot Shield is truly your number-one choice for protect your identity online.