Reported incidents of identity theft and fraud have seen a steady uptick, with 5.7 million cases in 2021, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
The most commonly reported form of identity theft is credit card fraud, followed by government documents or benefits fraud, loan or lease fund fraud, employment or tax-related fraud, bank fraud, and phone or utilities fraud, according to Experian. The estimated costs of identity theft will grow to $10.5 trillion by 2025.
Fortunately, you can protect your identity through these steps, so you don’t fall victim to identity theft attacks in 2023.
Destroy Your Paper Trail
When you get mail with credit card offers, bank statements, and utility bills, always dispose of them. Shred sensitive material or cover it with something disgusting in the trash. Don’t leave receipts behind at gas stations or grocery store checkouts. Even these tiny slips of paper could contain vital personal information.
Keep Track of Your Credit Card
Lose your credit card? Cancel it and get a new one immediately before someone can make fraudulent charges on your account.
One strategy for keeping your credit card safe is to put it into a cellphone case and never allow someone to borrow it or let it out of your sight, including at restaurants.
Know Who Is Emailing
Spam emails accounted for 45% of all emails in December 2021, equaling about 145 billion emails daily, according to Mail Modo. Though many spam emails go directly to your junk folder, some slip through because they closely mimic a genuine email.
To verify an email’s legitimacy, look for correct or close to correct grammar and punctuation. Analyze the address to determine if it matches the organization the email claims. Fortunately, you can quickly search to verify the domain name—the part after the “@” symbol—a company uses in legitimate emails.
If you need to visit a company’s website to, for example, sign into your account, visit the website in a new tab or window rather than clicking an email link. Finally, never email your Social Security number or any credit card number.
Photo: Nikolay Antonov via 123RF
Use Two-Factor Authentication
When available, set up two-factor authentication to add an extra layer of security to your online accounts. Called 2FA for short, it goes beyond asking for a username and password by requiring additional identification to login, such as a passcode, a key code, a fingerprint, or facial recognition.
“Businesses use 2FA to help protect their employees’ personal and business assets,” according to Microsoft.“This is important because it prevents cybercriminals from stealing, destroying, or accessing your internal data records for their own use.”
Use a Single Credit Card for Online Shopping
Should hackers gain access to your accounts, all information, including credit and debit card information, will be theirs. That’s why My Smart Money recommends designating a single credit card for all online transactions.
Check Your Credit Report
You can get a free credit report every year at annualcreditreport.com. Credit bureaus will include information about the number of pulls on your credit score, which indicate that someone is applying for a loan or new credit card. They also let you see what accounts are open in your name, the amount of credit card debt you have, and the average age of your accounts.
Should your credit score suddenly drop or accounts show up that you didn’t sign up for, it’s time to investigate whether someone has stolen your identity.
Unfortunately, with the number of identity thefts, it may not be a question of if but when someone will steal your identity. Resolve to protect yourself this year from worry and potential financial loss by following these tips and sharing them with your friends and family.