How to Prevent Identity Theft – 10 Expert Tips for 2024

In today’s world, it’s important to know how to prevent identity theft and how to protect your identity. The crime is far more common than people think, so it pays to be up to speed on how to avoid identity theft.

In this guide, we’ll explore identity protection services, how to protect against identity theft, and how to report it if you’ve been targeted.

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft refers to the crime of stealing personal and financial information so it can be used for illicit ends – such as accessing credit cards, obtaining loans, stealing tax refunds, and hijacking your email and social accounts to send phishing emails.

The consequences of identity theft are often severe, and the process of recovering a stolen identity is often time-consuming, distressing, and potentially costly. Because of this, you should do everything in your power to protect your data from cybercriminals.

Read on to learn how to stop identity theft and what to do if you’ve already had your details stolen.

Top 10 Identity Theft Protection Tips

Identity Theft Protection Tips

If you’re worried about someone stealing your identity or exploiting your personal and banking information, there are a few concrete steps you can take to protect yourself from identity theft.

Here are 10 ways to prevent identity theft that you should follow.

1. Protect All Your Electronic Devices

According to Statista, there were over 1,800 reported data breaches in 2022, which impacted a staggering 422 million individuals. This illustrates the scale of the threat and the number of malicious actors intent on capturing personal information.

There are a number of ways to protect yourself from online identity theft. The most effective is to install antivirus software on all your devices. Antivirus software protects you from cyber attacks such as spyware, ransomware, and other online threats that set out to give cybercriminals access to your personal information.

We recommend opting for an antivirus with a VPN (Virtual Private Network), as this will help protect your privacy and online anonymity by hiding your IP address and physical location.

Proactive dark web monitoring is a useful add-on, as it will alert you if your information appears on the dark web as a result of a data breach. Anti-phishing and ad-blocking features can also help to limit your exposure to viruses.

2. Use Strong, Unique Passwords for All Your Accounts

Many people use the same passwords for all their accounts and devices since it’s difficult to remember dozens of unique passwords. However, this means that if any one of your accounts gets hacked, cybercriminals can potentially then access every single online account you use.

That’s why you should use a password manager to generate strong, unique passwords and safely store them in an encrypted password vault that’s only accessible to you.

Even if someone gets ahold of the encrypted passwords, they won’t be able to use them without decrypting them. With the latest AES-256 encryption standard, there are so many combinations that it would take a supercomputer eons to crack your passwords – and it’ll have to start the process over for each login.

3. Be Mindful of Phishing Scams

Many identity thieves will attempt to trick you into sharing your personal information with them. Never share your personal or financial information with unknown individuals over the phone, via email, or on the internet unless you’re certain the party requesting the information can be trusted.

Keep in mind that scammers will pose as government agents or representatives of financial institutions or digital service providers.

Carefully check details like email addresses on messages, website URLs, and the content of web pages to ensure you’re in touch with a legitimate party. If you’re contacted by phone, ask why you should divulge information.

Banks, financial institutions, and customer support providers won’t ask you to share your username and password, so don’t fall for these scams. If you get an email or a phone call asking you to share sensitive information, contact the institution directly to confirm the legitimacy of the request.

4. Freeze Your Credit

If you don’t plan on opening a new account or applying for a loan, you should consider freezing your credit. This effectively prevents unauthorized parties from looking at your credit report, opening accounts in your name, requesting new credit cards, or taking out loans.

Even if someone got ahold of your financial information, they wouldn’t be able to use it. To freeze your credit, you’ll need to contact the three primary credit reporting companies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You can do this by email, over the phone, or by post.

There’s no downside to freezing your credit since you’ll receive a PIN, which will allow you to temporarily unfreeze it or lift the freeze in the future.

5. Never Carry All Your Documents With You

Identity theft happens in the real world and not just online. If your wallet contains your credit cards, Medicare card, driver’s license, and social security details, it could provide enough information for thieves to steal your identity.

Since you likely won’t need all of these items every time you leave the house, it’s best to leave everything you won’t be using safely stored at home.

6. Review Your Credit Card Receipts

When making credit card purchases, whether in-person or online, check your credit card receipts. They should only show the last four digits of your credit card number. If the receipt shows your full card number and your card’s expiration date, the information can be used to commit fraud.

If you encounter this, you should immediately report the vendor to the Office of the Attorney General. Of course, it’s also worth tracking your credit card statements for unexpected charges, which may indicate you’ve already been victimized.

7. Shred Documents Before Throwing Them in the Trash

While the vast majority of identity thefts happen as a result of an online scam or a data breach, there are still criminals who prefer old-fashioned, hands-on methods – like digging through people’s trash.

When disposing of documents, including your personal information, make sure to shred them so malicious individuals can’t just take credit card statements, utility bills, and pre-approved credit card offers out of your trash.

8. Opt Out of Pre-Screened Offers of Credit

Credit card companies often use information from credit reporting authorities to offer credit to eligible individuals. While this facilitates the process of getting approved for credit, it exposes you to risk if someone intercepts the communication.

If a criminal steals an offer letter, they can potentially obtain your personal information and even use credit applications to open new credit accounts in your name.

That’s why you should exercise your right to opt out of these offers. You can do so by visiting OptOutPrescreen.com or by calling 1-888-567-8688.

9. Frequently Review Credit Score Reports

You can and should request credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. It’s free, easy to do online, and it doesn’t damage your credit score in any way.

Reviewing and monitoring your credit score can alert you to any big changes, so you’ll know if someone’s tampering with your finances.

10. Wipe Your Device Before Selling or Giving Away Phones, Laptops, and Computers

People typically store a lot of personal data on their devices, including files, photos, videos, and passwords to their accounts.

If you plan on selling an old phone, laptop, iPad, or PC, you should completely wipe your hard drive and reset the device so the buyer, or the person they resell it to, doesn’t have access to information that could be used for identity theft.

How Identity Thieves Get Access To Your Information

Identity Theft Protection laptop

There are many ways in which criminals can obtain your information. Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the most common ones.

  • Spyware – If you’re visiting shady websites, clicking on ads, or torrenting files from untrusted sources, you might unknowingly download spyware to your device. These programs record and transmit your data to cybercriminals, tracking your clicks, key presses, and search history – exposing everything you do.
  • Data breaches – When cybercriminals hack their way into the databases of online service providers, they can potentially grab information on millions of people. That’s why you should install an antivirus with data breach monitoring, so you’ll have time to update your passwords before hackers can abuse your details.
  • Network attacks – Cybercriminals can gain access to your device and data by exploiting vulnerabilities in unsecured public WiFi networks. That’s why we recommend using an antivirus with a VPN on your phone and laptop before connecting to public WiFi.
  • Lost or stolen wallet – If you lose your wallet or it’s stolen, criminals may have access to your ID, credit cards, social security number, and any other documents you carry. If this happens, you should immediately report the theft, notify the relevant institutions, and freeze or cancel your lost cards.
  • Mailbox theft – Criminals can steal your mail from your mailbox or even redirect mail to a different location. That’s why you should choose a secure mailbox and regularly pick up your mail. You can also sign up for services to get emails with images of items you should expect so you’ll know if they don’t arrive.
  • Email scams – Phishing attacks are conducted via email and social media. Scammers impersonate legitimate businesses, service providers, or institutions and attempt to trick you into sharing your information, often by telling you that you need to update your passwords to secure your accounts.
  • Phone scams – These are similar to phishing attacks and see scammers asking for personal or financial information or passwords, justifying it by telling you they need to verify your identity. No legitimate service or institution will ever ask you for this, so never give strangers personal information over the phone.
  • Skimming – This is a more subtle way of stealing card information and usually involves credit card readers and ATMs that have been tampered with. If possible, always pay inside, at store counters, and use cash when you can. If you have to use a card, it’s best to use a card with a chip instead of swiping it.

How to Report Identity Theft

If you’ve been a victim of identity theft, you should immediately report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You can do this at identitytheft.gov. You’ll also get a personalized recovery plan that will help mitigate the damage.

You can also contact the IRS if the identity theft has anything to do with your tax returns by calling 800-908-4490. You can also check out the taxpayer’s guide to identity theft.

After reporting the identity theft to the FTC and the IRS, you should contact your local police department, credit card issuers, and postal service, especially if you’ve lost your wallet or have had your personal documents stolen. To facilitate this, it’s useful to have a copy of important documents on hand at home.

Should You Use an Identity Theft Protection Service?

Investing in identity protection services can be useful. These companies offer protection against identity theft by monitoring your credit score and alerting you of changes or attempts to open new bank accounts in your name.

ID theft protection services can also help you recover the money you lost and repair the damage done to your credit score. The policies vary from provider to provider, but most services insure you on sums up to $1 million.

One thing to understand is that these services don’t really help with preventing identity theft. Instead, they notify you after the theft has happened. This is still valuable, though, as victims of identity theft often don’t realize it until their accounts have been emptied or their information has already been heavily misused.

Given this, identity theft prevention is primarily a personal responsibility. That’s why many experts recommend freezing your credit if you’re not planning on using it and following the tips we’ve outlined above.

Having an antivirus and password manager in place is a smart starting point, and dark web monitoring and anti-phishing tools can offer additional defenses.

The costs of identity theft protection services range from $10/month upwards – but this isn’t much considering the potential cost of not knowing your information has been compromised.

More Cybersecurity Resources

In addition to this guide to identity theft protection, our team has put together a range of resources on the best cybersecurity tools available today, including the following guides.

Closing Words – How to Protect Against Identity Theft

Millions of people suffer from identity theft each year. Recovering your information and repairing your credit score is extremely time-consuming and can be costly.

That’s why you should take every possible measure to ensure the security of your personal and financial information.

This includes adapting certain sensible habits like regularly picking up your mail and shredding personal documents, as well as being mindful of the websites you visit, links you click, and files you download.

We also recommend protecting your electronic devices by installing the best antivirus software available, using strong, unique passwords for all your accounts, and periodically reviewing your credit reports.

Identity Protection FAQs

What happens when you report identity theft?

How can you prevent identity theft online?

What can you do to prevent medical identity theft?

What should you do to prevent identity theft after losing a wallet?

How can you prevent the identity theft of a deceased person?

Related How To’s

Related Terms

Aleksandar Stevanovic

Aleksandar Stevanovic spent 10 years honing his craft as a freelance content writer. He has a degree in Economics, and extensive experience in software, crypto, and cybersecurity industries. He covers a multitude of topics, writing factual and informative articles, helping individuals better understand the intricacies of the online world. Over the last two years, his research focus shifted more towards tech and software content, as evidenced by his publications on CEX.IO, Business2Community, and Techopedia. He believes in simplifying complex topics and bringing them closer to like-minded individuals. His work is as detail-oriented as it is creative, and is designed to…