The risk of getting your ID stolen has only gotten worse in recent years. In fact, you might be compromised and not even know it! If you’re an identity theft victim, here’s 8 things you can do to protect yourself, recover your stolen information, and prevent future problems.
Surprisingly enough, most of us have had our information exposed in the last few years, all thanks to massive corporate-level data breaches. This means the precursors to having your identity stolen are already in place. Even if you use a secure browser, run frequent background checks on yourself, and use a reliable VPN to lock down your data with encryption, there’s still a good chance you can become an identity theft victim.
Prevent and react to identity theft with protection services
Keeping your identity safe used to be as simple as shredding bank account statements and reporting your wallet as stolen. Today, your data can go missing without you even realizing it, all thanks to the digital revolution. You can’t possibly monitor all avenues of potential identity fraud, but a good protection service can.
What identity theft protection services offer
Having an account with an identity theft protection service automates nearly all of the steps we’ll list below. They monitor millions of data points to check for potential crimes, notify you of breaches and suspicious activity, and provide solutions for helping you recover from an attack, including insurance policies that guarantee you’ll stay on your feet.
Some identity protection services offer advanced monitoring that includes everything from name and address scans to full credit card and financial reporting. These usually come with credit checks and suspicious activity alerts, as well. We’ve featured two of the most reliable ID protection services below, both of which are great starts to obtaining a security identity.
1. Identity Force
Identity Force is a full-service, one-stop solution for identity theft victims and anyone seeking strong identity protection. The company offers monitoring, alerts, and recovery services for everyone, all with an easy to understand interface and fast notifications to multiple devices. With Identity Force, you can guard against damage caused by identity theft, get instant alerts when trouble arises, and even receive personalized assistance in case an identity breach does occur.
Identity Force is incredibly easy to use. As soon you sign up you can enter your details, then sit back and let the company do its job. Identity Force actively scans everything from credit card numbers to your name, address, social security number, and more, checking millions of databases, social media posts, and public records across the internet. If your personal information is found where it shouldn’t be, you get a notification along with a plan of action right away.
Fast, thorough, and easy to use, Identity Force is one of the best identity theft protection services on the market. It’s also backed by a $1 million insurance policy, covering you and your assets in the most extreme of circumstances.
2. Identity Guard
Identity Guard offers full and complete identity theft protection that covers personal data and financial information, family member details, and even business interests. It comes with full monitoring and alerts that create a powerful early warning system fueled by artificial intelligence algorithms. Identity Guard scours billions of data points for vulnerabilities, including credit card records and data from the dark web, creating an impenetrable radar that catches even the smallest breaches and notifies you immediately.
The Identity Guard service offers full scanning, monitoring, and alerts for all of its users, allowing you to discover and react to threats as quickly as possible. All of this is backed by IBM’s Watson technology, utilizing cutting edge AI to keep your identity safe. Even if all of these precautions fail, Identity Guard offers a $1 million insurance policy to ensure you’re never left out in the cold after an attack.
Identity Guard is a powerful and easy to use service that offers some of the most thorough ID scanning around. It’s one of the most affordable services, as well, making it a great entry point into the world of identity theft protection and recovery.
8 things to do if you’re an identity theft victim
Identity theft victims need to take action as quickly as possible to minimize the damage and maximize the chances of recovering their sensitive information. As soon as you suspect you might be the victim of identity theft, do these things in order:
1 – Plug the leak
If you receive an alert that your identity has been stolen, chances are it’s financially related. Credit cards and bank accounts are overwhelmingly the first place criminals go once they have a stolen identity. They’re after your money, obviously, so why wait around?
Whether you receive a notification from an identity protection service or if you caught a transaction on your account statement, the first thing you need to do is plug the leak. Call your bank or credit card company’s fraud department and tell them you noticed an unusual transaction. They’ll put a stop on the card to prevent further theft, and they may issue you a new card or recommend setting up a new account right away.
2 – Check for other unauthorized charges
If you noticed one unauthorized charge on your statement, chances are there might be more. Look through other credit card charges and bank account transactions to see if anything else unusual appears. If a thief has your identity, they most likely have control over most of your financial data. You may need to repeat the first step with all of your financial accounts, just to be safe.
3 – Look at your credit reports
Once you’ve identified a fraudulent charge, you’ll want to see how deep the theft goes. Spending money from your account is only the most obvious way to catch a thief. If they have control over your identity, they can take out loans or add other charges to your identity, not just drain your bank and credit card accounts.
Request copies of your credit report from the three major reporting agencies — Experien, Equifax, TransUnion. Look them over for any accounts or hits against your credit that seem unfamiliar. You may need this information later.
4 – Document the theft
Now that you have evidence, it’s time to take action. There are two thing to do in this step: filing a report with the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) and contacting your local police department. The former creates a paper trail with the government and shows something has happened to your identity. After sending in the report, you’ll receive a recovery plan and pre-filled forms you can use for carrying out the second step.
FTC data in hand, contact your local police department. Depending on the nature of the identity theft they may not be able to do anything about the issue, especially if the criminal is overseas. However, if you were victimized from a local establishment, such as credit card skimmers at gas stations or bars, the police needs to know about this so they can take action. If multiple reports of identity theft come in, they can shut it down and punish the offender.
5 – Join an identity theft protection service
If you haven’t joined a service like Identity Guard or Identity Force, now is the time to do it. Companies like this specialize in keeping an eye on your identity in case of a breach or theft. Once your ID has been stolen, it’s difficult to fully get it back. With a reliable monitoring service on your side, you can keep a close watch on things from a single unified dashboard.
6 – Place fraud alerts on your credit reports
With basic securities and a paper trail in place, you can now take firm action. Get in touch with the credit bureaus and inform them that your identity was stolen. They will place a fraud alert on your identity, notifying any institution that checks your credit that something might be amiss.
If the thief tries to take out a loan or otherwise do something that would affect your credit or financial situation, creditors will see this alert and take further steps to verify the person’s identity. At minimum they will be denied further access to your identity. They may also be reported to the police and their identity fraud scams halted immediately.
7 – Open new accounts
Now it’s time to start over. It’s frustrating, yes, and it can be time consuming, but it’s absolutely necessary to keep your data secure. Talk to your bank or credit card operator and tell them you would like to close your current accounts and re-open them with different numbers. Do this for every financial account you have, not just the ones you know were compromised. This prevents future crimes from affecting your identity.
8 – Follow best practices for identity safety
Identity theft can be extremely damaging to one’s financial status. It happens to the best of us, and it can be completely out of our control at times. With the steps above and with a good identity protection service on your site, you can do everything in your power to keep your ID safe and secure.
In addition to the previous suggestions, there are also steps you can take at any time to lock down your identity. Do this before or after an identity theft scare, the sooner the better. They will cost you nothing more than a few minutes of your time, but they can safe your financial identity from harm.
Where do identities get stolen in the first place?
Sadly, identity threats are all over the place. You don’t have to engage in illegal activity to put your details on cyber criminal’s radars. Below are just a few of the more common areas where information gets leaked and identities get stolen.
Credit card skimmers
The majority of identity theft cases can be traced back to credit card fraud, especially credit card skimmers. These can come in the form of physical devices installed at any place where you scan your credit card, including gas stations, restaurants, and cash machines. They can also be as simple as someone writing down your information when they get a look at your card details, or by watching you enter your PIN on the code pad.
Man in the middle attacks
Man in the middle attacks, sometimes called Wi-Fi spoofing, are more common than you might think. They’re used in public spaces such as libraries, hotels, cafes, and restaurants to duplicate a local Wi-Fi access point in and trick people into logging on. As soon as you do, they have access to every keystroke you make, including passwords and login information for sensitive data. Remember: public Wi-Fi isn’t always safe. Be extra cautious when connecting.
Lost or stolen devices
Have you ever left your phone somewhere public or forgotten your tablet at a cafe? Accessing or even stealing hardware is a surprisingly common method of identity theft. With your device in hand, criminals can access your entire online life, from financial accounts to e-mail to online shopping, all without restriction.
Corporate data breaches
Company-wide hacks, leaks, and data breaches are growing more and more common. Cyber criminals have learned to target huge databases held by these companies, allowing them to gain access to millions of people’s identities with very little effort. In the last couple of years companies like Verizon, Equifax, Bell Canada, HandBrake, Uber, and Yahoo have suffered enormous breaches resulting in over 1 billion records stolen.
Steps to take to protect your identity
Having an identity service such as Identity Force or Identity Guard on your side is an incredible way to check for credit card fraud and hidden identity attacks. There are a number of things you can do on your own to help keep your information safe, as well.
Use a VPN on your devices
VPNs are one of the fastest, easiest, and most affordable ways to add encryption to your devices. With a secure VPN on your hardware, every piece of data that leaves it will be wrapped in a layer of code impenetrable to outside sources. Even if a thief did scoop up your data, they would be unable to read it, as only the VPN itself can decrypt the code to see what’s inside. It’s instant and effortless security.
VPNs do more than just keep your data safe, they also allow you to stay anonymous thanks to non-local virtual IP addresses, a feature that makes it possible to stream videos from around the world, break through censorship barriers, and much more.
Create strong passwords
If you use the same password for more than one site, or if any of your passwords look like “password123” or your pet’s name, you could be risking a serious security breach. Password lists are routinely stolen from companies and either released to the public or sold to third parties. All it takes is a single breach and your information is out there, ready to enable identity fraud.
There are tons of online password generators you can use to create secure passwords for all of your online accounts. Make sure you use a different one for each site, and make sure they follow the basic rules of being at least eight characters long, featuring a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, and include one or more non-standard symbols.
If that sound like a lot of work, don’t worry, there are plenty of password management systems in place that can handle the heavy lifting for you. Two of the best are LastPass and Bitwarden. Create an account there (with a secure password, of course), then let them store and enter your data for you.
Keep your data to yourself
The most effective way to prevent identity theft is to never share your details in the first place. That’s a tall order given the fact that most sites demand e-mail addresses and names just to create an account. But if you can avoid sharing data in the first place, you can prevent a surprising number of ID theft attempts before they even begin. Keep the following tips in mind as you use the internet each day.
- Use an anonymous e-mail address or one that isn’t connected to your name.
- Don’t give out telephone or physical address information.
- Don’t sign up for services you don’t need.
- Close accounts you never use.
- Use made-up names for non-essential account sign-ups.
Use a better browser
A number of browsers have emerged in recent years with a strong focus on providing privacy and security for users. They’re fast, they don’t track your data, they prevent scripts from monitoring you, and they do it all in a friendly and customizable environment anyone can enjoy.
It’s best to focus on two of the most secure browsers on the market: Firefox and Brave. Each of these are made specifically to provide users with as much identity and data protection as possible. For more suggestions, including the top browsers for mobile devices, check out our guide to the most secure browsers.
Install secure browser extensions
Even with a good browser in place, there’s more you can do for your online privacy. The easiest is to install secure browser extensions that watch for threatening scripts, block unwanted ads, and keep your data as safe as possible. For the full list of security, privacy, and encryption plug-ins, check out our guide on the 8 must-have browser extensions.
If you’re the victim of identity theft, there are plenty of things you can do to restore your status, prevent further breaches, and keep all of your data as secure as possible. If you have any extra tips relating to online ID protection, be sure to share them in the comments below!