Identity theft happens when someone steals and uses your personal information. It doesn’t always look the same and scammers can have various intentions for using your information. It may range from opening fraudulent bank accounts in your name. Or it could mean using your driver’s license to get out of traffic violations. Still, other scammers can use your identity to steal your tax refund or pose as you to receive medical services. Your identity needs protection from theft.
Scammers have become highly sophisticated, which means identity theft could happen to anyone. While stopping identity theft completely may not be possible, you can lower your chances of becoming a victim by protecting your personal information and following basic tips for how to prevent identity theft.
Identity theft protection starts with recognition
When you use the internet, you should always be on alert for scammers and other malicious activity. Scammers take all kinds of routes to trick you into sharing personal information, such as your Social Security number (SSN), bank account credentials, home address and phone number, and more.
While scams take different forms, many scammers aim to tap into your emotions to push you to do something. That might mean scaring you into purchasing bogus software or scareware, pulling at your heartstrings to send money to a fake cause, or alarming you into allowing them remote access to your computer. Some common internet scams to look out for are phishing, romance scams, Tech Support scams, and IRS scams.
How to prevent identity theft
You should take precautions both online and in the real world to make your personal information less accessible.
To protect your identity from being stolen:
- Keep important documents (e.g., Social Security card, financial documents, Medicare cards, etc.) at home in a safe, secure place—NOT your wallet.
- Only give out your SSN when necessary and only to a trusted requestor. Do not ever provide it over the phone or internet to an unknown source.
- Use strong passwords for financial accounts, email, and other sensitive accounts. Do not save them on public computers.
- Use private browsing on public computers and networks.
- Pick up mail promptly every day and pause deliveries if you are out of town.
- Shred all financial documents or paperwork containing sensitive information before throwing away.
- Regularly monitor your financial accounts and statements, medical statements, and credit reports.
- Use password protection on your mobile device, laptop, iPad, etc.
Stay alert and report scams
Having your identity stolen by a scammer can be scary and a tough situation to mitigate. To do your part in stopping identity theft (and to increase your own peace of mind), be diligent about keeping your personal information protected. Remember, it’s better to be overly cautious than overly trusting online—if someone’s behavior on social media, an email you receive, or a pop-up alert doesn’t seem quite right, it’s best to trust your gut and keep your information private.
If you believe your identity has been stolen, visit identitytheft.gov to report the scam and access helpful next steps. Plus, find more cybersecurity tips and tools from CenturyLink to stay even safer online.