If you think identity theft could never happen to you, think again. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received an astounding 1.4 million identity theft reports. Combined with other fraud cases, the total loss amounted to over $5.9 billion. But identity theft doesn’t have to happen to you.

Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself: 

Avoid Recycling Passwords

Reusing passwords across platforms can put multiple accounts at risk. And considering different sites have varying degrees of protection (e.g., an email server versus a social media platform), you may be sacrificing more information than you bargained for. Protect yourself by changing passwords regularly and using different usernames and password combinations for each online account. The strength of your password is based on its complexity, length, and uniqueness. 

Remember, passwords are the first line of defense to prevent unauthorized access to your personal information.

Shred Sensitive Information

A common way fraudsters gain access to your personal information is by rummaging through your trash, seeking bank statements, bills, and other documents containing your personal information. Make sure to keep sensitive documents locked in a secure location and shred any important documents before throwing them out.

Watch for Phishing Attempts

If you are contacted by someone – completely unsolicited – seeking personal information, chances are this is a phishing scam. With phishing scams, fraudsters usually pose as company representatives and use authentic-looking websites or emails with malicious links to gather your personal information. Do not provide any sensitive information and avoid clicking on links from unfamiliar or suspicious sources. No credible company or government agency will contact you asking for your personal information via email or over the phone.

Be Wary of Public WIFI

Many browsers warn users of unencrypted, unsecured sites. Don’t just ignore those warnings. Unsecured sites make it much easier for hackers to intercept your data. In addition, try to only use public WIFI from well-known sources or places you’ve visited before.

Monitor Your Credit Report

After getting your personal information, fraudsters will often look to open new credit lines in your name. Review your credit report regularly for any unexpected changes, such as new accounts or credit inquiries, and immediately dispute any irregularities. In addition, the three main credit bureaus offer credit alerts that require lenders to contact you to verify your identity before extending credit. This is a good option if you suspect you’re a victim of identity theft.

You can access one free credit report from each credit reporting agency annually. While you have the ability to pull all three reports at once, consider pulling one report and waiting a few months before pulling the next so that you can get a snapshot for the entire year for free. There are also plenty of free and paid monitoring services you can opt for if you would like more frequent reporting. Do your research and find out what works best for you.

To Obtain a Copy of Your Credit Report

You can submit a single request for all three credit reporting agencies at AnnualCreditReport.com.

To Issue a Credit Alert

To issue an alert, you will need to contact each credit bureau independently:

Equifax: (800) 685-1111 or click Equifax.com.

Experian: (888) 397-3742 or click Experian.com.

TransUnion: (888) 909-8872 or click TransUnion.

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