Are you worried about your identity being stolen? If you’re not, you should be. In the United States in 2022, 13.5 million people experienced identity theft. It’s really only a matter of time until it happens to you, and you need to be ready.
You need to take identity theft seriously because it’s becoming more common, and it can really impact your life. While the most common form of identity theft is theft of credit card information, a thief who steals your identity can commit crimes in your name, use your health insurance benefits, open new accounts in your name and run up the balances, and even work illegally using your Social Security number. You need to protect your personal data, because becoming a victim of identity theft can ruin your life.
Understand the Threat
You shouldn’t think of identity theft as something that happens to other people. Identity theft can happen to you. Someone could steal your card information with a skimmer at a gas pump or with an RFID reader. Someone who gets ahold of sensitive information like your Social Security number might use it to open new accounts in your name. Someone might steal your mail in order to obtain personal information or use pre-approved credit card offers sent to your home.
The scary thing about identity theft is that, often, you don’t know you’ve been a victim until a few months later, when you start getting letters and calls from debt collectors about amounts you never borrowed, or start getting bills from doctors you haven’t seen, or realize that your expected mail hasn’t been arriving. By the time you realize you’ve been the victim of identity theft, you could already have a ton of debt in your name, false information in your medical history (if the thief has been using your health insurance), and you could even lose money from your bank accounts. It can take a long time to clean up the damage done by identity theft, which is why you need to catch it early or avoid it altogether.
While you probably can’t avoid identity theft entirely, there’s a lot you can do to protect yourself. First, you should be monitoring your credit and your identity so that you’ll know right away if someone opens an account in your name or uses your Social Security number. Use identity protection software to monitor the web for signs that your personal information has been stolen or is being used by crooks. Most identity protection software tools will notify you when your personal data is being sold on the dark web, and they can detect any illicit use of your information right away. They’ll also usually offer some amount of assistance if you’re a victim, including a customer helpline and insurance to cover your financial losses.
Catching identity theft early is ideal, because it means you can stop it before too much damage is done. If you’re paying attention to your credit, for example, you’ll notice when a new account appears under your name, instead of months later when the debt collectors come calling. The thief will have less time to rack up debt in your name and you won’t have to deal with getting collection items off your credit report.
In addition to monitoring your credit closely, you should protect your Social Security number. Monitor your Social Security account for suspicious activity, and don’t give your Social Security number out unless you’re sure you need to. Use a strong, unique password for each one of your online logins – you can use a password manager to help you keep track of all your passwords. Know how to identify credit card skimmers at gas stations and protect your cards online by only using them to shop on secure sites.
Don’t share personal information, including your data of birth, on social media. Pay attention to the news – if a big data breach occurs, you’ll need to take action to protect your data. You’ll need to change the password for any account that may have been leaked in the breach. Make sure each new password is strong and unique.
It’s time you started taking identity theft seriously. It happens to more than ten million Americans every year, and it will happen to you eventually. What makes the difference is whether or not you’re prepared to respond to identity theft quickly and decisively. The faster you know what’s going on, the sooner you can put a stop to any unauthorized or suspicious activity in your name.
Lynn Martelli is an editor at Readability. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University and has worked as an editor for over 10 years. Lynn has edited a wide variety of books, including fiction, non-fiction, memoirs, and more. In her free time, Lynn enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with her family and friends.