In 2023, the ominous specter of identity theft looms larger than ever. Recent reports indicate that identity theft continues to plague Americans: in the first half of the year alone, nearly 560,000 cases of identity theft were reported nationwide. This unsettling trend puts 2023 on track to surpass one million identity theft complaints.
How to protect against identity theft
In the face of these alarming statistics, the need to fortify digital defenses and cultivate a safer online presence is paramount. To help prevent identity theft, follow these strategies:
Create strong and unique passwords
Passwords are typically used to protect email, banking, and social media accounts. However, many people nominate weak passwords or reuse them, making it extremely easy for hackers to take over password-based accounts.
Strengthen your passwords by choosing long, unique passphrases that are difficult for others to guess but easy for you to remember. Additionally, utilizing password managers and regularly updating passwords can help enhance your defense against identity theft.
Be careful about sharing personal information online
While sharing information is essential for many online activities, such as creating social media profiles or making online purchases, it's crucial to be mindful of what you disclose and to whom. Be cautious about sharing sensitive information online, such as your bank account and Social Security number. Also, only share personal information with websites or companies you trust.
Use a secure connection
Public Wi-Fi networks, often found in coffee shops, airports, and libraries, offer convenient internet access but can also be vulnerable to hacking. Never use these connections unless you really have to, and avoid accessing sensitive information, such as online banking or financial accounts, when connected to such networks. It's also good practice to use a virtual private network, as it encrypts your internet traffic and safeguards your data even if you’re connected to a public network.
Review your financial statements regularly
Financial statements, such as credit card statements and bank statements, provide valuable insights into your financial transactions. Regularly reviewing these statements and setting up alerts for unusual transactions can help you identify unauthorized activity and protect yourself from identity theft.
Be vigilant against phishing
Phishing emails and text messages often contain links that appear to be legitimate, such as those from banks or online retailers. Clicking on these links can trigger a malware download or lead to fraudulent websites used to steal information.
To protect yourself from phishing scams:
- Verify the legitimacy of emails and websites before divulging any information. If unsure about a message, contact the sender directly to check if they sent it.
- Hover over links before clicking them. Doing so shows you the destination URL.
- If you receive unsolicited emails or text messages, do not click on any links they contain.
- Keep abreast of the latest phishing tactics to stay one step ahead of cybercriminals.
Implement security software
Security software, including antivirus and anti-malware programs, can help protect your computer and smartphone from harmful software designed to steal your personal information.
Install reputable security software on your devices, and keep your security software up to date with the latest patches and updates to ensure that you're protected against the latest threats.
What to do if you suspect identity theft
Having your identity stolen can have catastrophic consequences. If you suspect that you may be a victim of identity theft, it's important to take action immediately and undertake the following steps:
Place a fraud alert on your credit reports
To deter unauthorized account openings in your name, consider placing a fraud alert on your credit reports. Contact any of the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion — to initiate this process.
Report to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
File a complaint with the FTC through their identity theft website or by calling the identity theft hotline at 1-877-438-4338. The FTC provides a step-by-step recovery plan and creates an identity theft report, which can be valuable in dealing with creditors.
File a police report
Report the incident to your local law enforcement agency. Explain in detail what happened, and present any evidence you may have. Get a copy of the police report, as you can use it to prove your case to creditors.
Inform financial institutions
Get in touch with your banks, credit card providers, and other relevant financial institutions and tell them about the identity theft situation. They can assist you in closing any fraudulent accounts and disputing any unauthorized charges.
Secure your accounts
To prevent further harm, change the passwords for your online accounts, particularly those for banking, email, and social media. Activate multifactor authentication for an extra security layer.
As our lives become more intertwined with the digital landscape, the risk of identity theft continuously escalates. Online Computers specializes in implementing cybersecurity safeguards to help protect against identity theft and other digital threats. Drop us a line to learn more.