What Is Identity Theft?
Back in the old days, a criminal couldn’t commit identity theft without dressing up like someone else and learning a fake accent. But times have changed. Now we can have our ID stolen in seconds from a computer-savvy teen or clever phone scam.
We know talking about identity theft probably doesn’t put a spring in your step, but it’s important. So, let’s look at what it is and how you can prevent it. Because knowledge alone isn’t power. But knowledge plus action sure is.
What Is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is when someone takes your personal info and uses it without your approval. Your name, Social Security card, driver’s license number, or even your home address can all be stolen and used for some punk’s financial gain—at your financial loss.
What Are the Types of Identity Theft?
Turns out there are several ways someone can steal your identity. Creepy? Yes. But you need to know where you’re vulnerable so you can beef up your personal security (without hiring a bodyguard).
Here are some common types of identity theft:
Debit or Credit Card Fraud
Debit or credit card fraud can look one of two ways. One is when someone steals your card info to make purchases with your money. The second is when someone steals your personal info to open a new account in your name.
This threat is real and happens in many different ways. Thieves can install skimmers onto card readers that collect your card info (like at a gas station). A waiter can copy down your info after taking your card back to process your dinner payment. Or a phony email that looks like it came from your bank can trick you into entering your card or bank numbers.
So be aware, but don’t freak out and start living the hermit life. You don’t have to be afraid to fill your car with gas or go out to dinner because you’re worried a thief will drain your bank account. Although paying with cash is one way to secure yourself against this kind of theft— and we’ll talk later about more ways to protect your identity.
Social Security Identity Theft
This happens when a thief uses your Social Security number to land a job, file taxes, or claim to be you in some way. Um. What a creep. But it happens! Don’t carry your Social Security card around with you, and don’t give your number to just anybody. Your new employer needs it. The guy selling you a mobile phone plan doesn’t.
Phone or Utilities Fraud
Listen. If someone calls and claims to be a rep for a utilities company or your phone provider, and they demand payment for your bill then and there, do not give them your card info over the phone—even if they say they’ll turn off your lights or power. This is a popular scam thieves use to scare you into sharing your info.
Never log in to one of your private accounts on an unsecure network. Wait until you get home to make an online payment or check your bank statements. Why? Smarty-pants tech geeks can crack a security system in a wireless network and see all the information people are sending out. And once they’ve got your personal info, not even the sky is the limit for how they can steal your identity.
Bank fraud is when a criminal steals money from a bank or some other financial institution. It becomes identity theft when that sneaky criminal uses your info to forge a check from your account, steal a check written to you, or take out a loan in your name.
How to Report Identity Theft
If your identity is stolen, you’ve got some work to do.
First, file a police report. Identity theft is a crime, and it needs to be treated that way!
Second, you need to report the theft online with the Federal Trade Commission.
After that, make sure you put a stop to any further damage the thief can do. How you do that depends on the kind of theft—but it can include steps like closing any fake accounts that were opened in your name, freezing your credit, updating any usernames and passwords linked to the accounts, and checking your bank and credit reports. You can get the full checklist from financial expert Dave Ramsey.
That’s a whole lot of cleanup. But if you’ve got a full-service identity theft protection plan like the one offered by Zander Insurance, the work is way easier. They don’t just look in on your credit from time to time like other companies. They handle the hard stuff and help you restore your identity if it gets stolen.
How Does Identity Theft Happen?
We’ve already hit on this a little, but ID theft is way easier—and way more common—in the digital age. There are so many ways thieves can get your personal info, like using card skimmers or stealing bank statements or credit card applications you’ve tossed in the trash without shredding. They can also get your information if you log in to secure websites on unsecure networks. Or they could even go the old-school method of writing down your card info on a piece of paper.
There were over 14 million victims of identity fraud in 2018.1 We don’t say that to scare you but to let you know the reality of the threat! Ignoring it just makes you an easier victim. So, be proactive and aware of ways to keep your identity—and money—safe!
How to Prevent Identity Theft
Don’t sit back and wait to have your identity stolen. Take charge! Here’s how you can prevent identity theft:
Check your credit report.
We’re not talking about your credit score—that’s something different. If you’ve never had debt or if you’ve lived debt-free for several years, you don’t have a credit score. (And bravo on that, by the way!)
But everyone has a credit report, and checking it at least three times a year is one of the best ways to catch identity theft quickly. For example, if anyone opened a line of credit in your name, you’d see it right there on the credit report. Then you can jump on fixing that problem immediately.
You can get one free credit report each year from credit-reporting companies like Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. So, every four months, get a report from a different one of those!
Make sure your computer’s antivirus software is updated.
These aren’t gimmicks! They’re a great way to protect yourself. Without an updated antivirus software, you’re an open target for internet identity theft.
Be careful of your privacy on social media.
We don’t just mean clicking through the privacy settings on your social media accounts—be careful what you’re sharing! Make sure you aren’t flashing around your driver’s license and home address on pictures. And maybe don’t go sharing your mother’s maiden name, your first pet’s name, or anything else you’ve tied into security questions for any of your accounts. Nothing you post is 100% private, so be selective about what you share online.
Don’t use unsecure Wi-Fi for secure transactions.
We mentioned this before, but it’s super important! Don’t buy things or log in to your bank when you’re sitting at the local coffee shop and enjoying their free Wi-Fi. It just isn’t safe.
Be smart about passwords.
Don’t use the same password for everything. Yes, it makes life harder to change it up—but it’s a must for security. Also, change your passwords every 90 days. Again—annoying, but way less annoying than cleaning up the aftermath of a stolen identity.
Guess what—no one will steal your personal info from a $20 bill! If you’re able to, use cash instead of your card.
Get an identity theft protection plan.
Make sure you get an identity theft protection plan that offers both protection and recovery services. You need Social Security number monitoring, change of address monitoring, recovery services and reimbursement—not just a letter in the mail that comes too many days too late saying, “Heads up, looks like something weird is happening to your identity.” Um, not good enough.
Because the deal is, even with all the protection in the world, identity theft can happen to anyone. If it does, you’ll want someone in your corner who knows what they’re doing. That’s why we recommend Zander Insurance for identity theft protection. They assign a case worker to you if your identity is stolen, and they’ll do all the legwork so you can get your life back. ASAP.
That’s why it’s 100% worth putting Zander’s (totally affordable) identity theft protection plan in your budget—today.