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19 ways to prevent identity theft

Preventing identity theft involves preventing others from getting access to your personally identifiable information.

Papers and documents

Shred any documents that have identifying information on them — credit card statements, utility bills, medical bills, credit applications, junk mail, insurance forms, bank statements, etc.

Consider depositing your outgoing mail in a post office collection box or directly at the Post Office, and collect your incoming mail as soon as it arrives.

Make sure that your personnel records at work are secure.

Computer and phone

  • Computers are vulnerable because many people load a lot of personal information on them for uses such as banking, shopping, and record-keeping. Use a secured browser (with the padlock icon in the lower right) with your privacy settings on high.

  • Read privacy policies closely. Some Websites will sell or use information about you.

  • Don't post seemingly harmless information such as your birth date, email address, etc. online. Thieves can use these.

  • Verify any emails that ask you to reset a password. Those are most likely ID theft tricks.

  • If you don't already have a firewall and current antivirus protection with anti-spyware, put them on your computer.

  • Keep track of all your usernames and passwords and where they are kept. Change them periodically.

  • If you do file sharing, do it on a computer that does not have any of your personal information.

  • Don't use automatic logins that store your user information.

  • Be suspicious of unsolicited emails. Compare any links in the emails to the links you are being directed to. Better yet, call up the business to confirm it.

Identity theft is just one form of privacy violation. (Graphic: David Foster/Cashay)
Identity theft is just one form of privacy violation. (Graphic: David Foster/Cashay)

Your credit and credit cards

  • Don't carry more cards than you need. Don't carry your Social Security card with you. Put passwords on your cards and other accounts if you can.

  • Get your credit report every year from each of the three credit bureaus via www.annualcreditreport.com. Space them throughout the year.

Emergency situations

ID thieves can loot your home after you evacuate it during an emergency or natural disaster. Keep photocopies of your important papers, including financial accounts, and store them in a locked box in case you have to leave home at a moment's notice.

Shopping online

  • Some thieves have created online shopping sites that look exactly like real ones. Make sure that the Web address is the real one and that it matches the company.

  • The addresses on ordering pages should begin with https. The s means "secure."

  • Make sure the little padlock icon is at the bottom of your screen. The lock should be in closed position.

  • If you are shopping on an unfamiliar site, research the company to ensure that it is legitimate.

  • Shop in stores that are located in the United States.

  • Don't provide your Social Security number to online vendors.

  • Don't provide any information beyond what's required.

  • It is safer to shop online with a credit card than a debit card.

The IRS

Know that the IRS does not contact people by email. If you receive an email claiming to be from the IRS and claiming that you owe money or are getting a refund, forward it to phishing@irs.gov.

ID theft protection services

Identity theft protection services have sprung up to serve individuals in a variety of ways. For a small fee each month, they will provide such services as monitoring public records, monitoring your credit, providing resolution, providing insurance or guarantees, and providing Internet monitoring. It's a good idea to research several and look up reviews for each one, because their levels of service and their reputations differ.

Dive deeper: What is identity theft? Everything you need to know

This content was created in partnership with the Financial Fitness Group, a leading e-learning provider of FINRA compliant financial wellness solutions that help improve financial literacy.

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