Identity Theft Protection
You might think identity theft is the kind of crime that happens to other people—perhaps those who are careless with personal and financial documents, who don't regularly check their credit reports, or who, unfortunately, do business with companies at risk for security breaches.
However, the fact is that no one is immune to identity theft—even those people who take diligent steps to protect themselves.
Identity thieves are constantly on the prowl for new victims and, thanks to ever-growing advances in hacking software and other identity fraud tools, new victims suffer every day—including senior citizens, college students, and even children.
Still, there are ways to practice identity theft prevention and protect yourself as best you can against thieves, as well as recover your identity in the event it is stolen.
What Is Identity Theft?
The term “identity theft" is used to describe a multitude of crimes related to someone illegally using another person's personal data and financial information, often for financial gain and sometimes for creating a whole new life for themselves.
Most often, identity thieves use information such as someone's:
- Driver's license or identification card.
- Social Security number (SSN).
- Bank or credit union account numbers.
- Telephone numbers.
- Physical and mailing address(es).
- E-mail address(es).
- Website login and password information.
- Bank statements, bills, and other important mail.
Aside from stealing someone's personal identity, identity thieves don't just use this information to drain existing bank accounts—they also create significant additional financial debt, such as maxing out credit cards, opening and using new credit lines, and taking out loans for big purchases like vehicles or homes.
Avoiding ID Theft
As mentioned above, no one is immune to identity theft; however, there are plenty of identity theft protection steps everyone can take.
Basically, it all boils down to being vigilant about protecting your personal and financial information, as well as keeping tabs and reporting any suspicious activities done in your name.
These steps might sound daunting, but we've done the research for you. Refer to our guides below for details on how to stop identity thieves in their tracks.
- Identity Theft Checklist
- It's important to identify and protect valuable personal information and documents, recognize warning signs, and know your rights when it comes to reporting and rectifying identity theft.
- Identity Theft Warning Signs
Have more questions? Check out our Identity Theft FAQs for answers.
Identity Theft Protection Services
Although they don't actually stop your identity from being stolen, identity theft protection companies offer services that can:
- Monitor for warning signs that your personal information has been breached
- You can choose credit monitoring, identity monitoring, or both.
- Help you take steps to recover from identity theft.
- Sometimes, these companies also offer identity theft insurance, which helps you pay for out-of-pocket expenses directly related to reclaiming your identity.
- While there are many steps you can take on your own without the help of counselors from these organizations, identity theft protection companies do help streamline the process for you during such a stressful time.
Do your research before you choose an identity theft protection company. Search online for ratings and reviews, talk with a customer service representative to gauge your comfort level, and check the company's information with the Better Business Bureau (BBB), where you can find details about customer complaints and how the company handled them.
Reclaiming Your Stolen Identity
Identity theft is a crime, and there are laws on both the state and federal levels to help you reclaim your identity, as well as bring justice to the thief.
As mentioned above, companies that provide identity theft protection services often provide you with assistance while you reclaim your identity.
However, there are many steps you can take on your own—most of which won't cost you a dime.
For example, you can:
- File an official Identity Theft Report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
- Contact the nationwide credit bureaus about correcting fraudulent information and placing fraud alerts or freezes on your credit report.
- Provide information to debt collectors and other creditors about your identity theft and subsequent fraudulent charges.
- Take advantage of federal and state financial liability limits.
- Be privy to public court proceedings related to the identity thief's prosecution, as well as obtain protection from your identity thief.
Refer to Identity Theft & Your Rights for specific details on how to handle these and other steps to rightfully and legally regain your identity.