The damage identity theft can do to your life and credit report can be a real hassle to clean up, especially if you don’t realize you’ve been a victim until after collection bills start rolling in.


You can’t always keep your personal information out of the hands of thieves. Data breaches happen, and so do moments of weakness where you fall victim to a phishing scam. But staying aware of what’s going on in your financial life, and taking basic precautions to protect your information online, can help you prevent most identity theft and deal with it quickly when it does occur.

Use Account Alerts and Credit Monitoring

Paying close attention to your accounts and your credit report is probably the most effective thing you can do to nip identity theft in the bud before a thief has time to steal all your money or run up thousands in debt in your name.

Most mobile banking and credit card apps allow you to be notified every time a transaction goes through, which can help you shut down suspicious activity right away. Most banks also offer some amount of credit monitoring, so you can be alerted to things like a drop in your credit score or new inquiries or new accounts appearing on your profile as soon as they happen, and not weeks or months later when bills start arriving.

Freeze Your Credit

If you freeze your credit, no new accounts can be opened in your name, which is a sure-fire way to hamper identity theft. The downside of freezing your credit is that you can’t open a new account either, at least not without having the freeze removed first. Place a freeze on your credit by calling one of the three major credit reporting bureaus, Equifax, Experian, or Transunion, and asking to put a freeze on your credit. This will prompt the other two bureaus to do the same, so you only need to call one.

Be Careful What You Share on Social Media

Identity thieves may be privy to more of your private information than you think, because you’re sharing it on social media! Your birthday, the birthdays of your spouse and kids, personal details like your mother’s maiden name or the name of your hometown – all of these bits of information help thieves answer your password security questions and break into your account. Keep personal information off social media.

Beware of Phishing Scams

Phishing scams use alarming emails to prompt you into clicking on a link and entering your login information into a malicious mirror site that looks like Amazon or your bank website. Sometimes they ask you to download an attachment instead. Sometimes they even engage you in back-and-forth conversation, as in the Nigerian prince scam. Know how to recognize phishing scams so you don’t engage with them.

Keep Your Social Security Number Secret

Don’t give out your Social Security number to anyone who calls, texts, or emails you. Only give it out to entities that need it and only if you initiated the contact. Keep your Social Security card at home unless you’re going to need it that day.

Use Antivirus Software

Antivirus software doesn’t just protect against malware and viruses – it also provides robust online identity theft protection. Many programs will monitor the dark web for your data, letting you know whether it’s already in the hands of thieves. They’ll also let you know if anyone tries to use your Social Security number. And you’ll usually get some insurance to help you cover costs if you are a victim.

Pay Attention to Your Mail

Stealing mail is an easy way for identity thieves to find personal information. Pay close attention to your mail and bring it in as soon as possible after it arrives. Consider opting out of pre-approved credit offers, because thieves can use these to easily get credit in your name. If something you were expecting in the mail never arrives, that could be a sign of identity theft.

Read Your Statements

You should read your credit card and bank statements carefully to make sure you recognize all of the transactions on them. Do this especially if you’re not getting alerts for every transaction. You can dispute any unauthorized charges with your credit card company or bank.

Identity theft may not be 100 percent preventable, but you can manage your risk with the right precautions. Keep your personal information secure, and pay attention to your own finances, and you should be able to protect yourself from identity thieves.