3 Top Tips to Protect Yourself From Identity Theft
Protecting yourself from identity theft isn’t always top of mind, between work, school, household finances and everything else that requires daily attention.
Shredding sensitive documents, accessing bank accounts by biometric login (thumbprint or facial recognition) and safeguarding your Social Security number are great ways to protect your hard-earned assets. But what else should you be thinking about?
The truth is, as hard as we work to create complex passwords, criminals are working just as hard to crack them. When the pandemic altered shopping behaviors, scammers took note and changed their strategies as well.
According to a study from Javelin Strategy & Research, identity theft cost Americans a whopping $52 billion in 2021. The bulk of that loss –– $28 billion –– came from identity fraud scams where criminals interacted directly with consumers via robocalls, phishing emails and similar tactics. Traditional identity fraud losses, caused by criminals illegally using victims’ information to steal money, exploded in 2021 to $24 billion –– an alarming 79% increase over 2020.1
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has reported some sobering statistics. Recent findings comparing 2021 to 2020 showed that identity theft is gaining momentum with:
- Reported identity theft losses growing from $1.8 billion in 2019 to $3.3 billion in 2020 and $5.8 billion in 2021
- 1.4 million people filing a report through identitytheft.gov (25% of all fraud reports)
- 395,948 people reporting that their information was used to apply for government benefits 2
Those numbers may seem daunting, but there are steps you can take to protect your assets, your good credit and your future. Some revolve around mindset, and others require action. Every step you take makes it harder for thieves to be successful. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
Tip 1: Beware of spoofing.
Spoofing is when a scammer deliberately falsifies the information you see on your caller ID to disguise their identity. So, don’t be fooled by an unknown number from a familiar area code. Let it go to voicemail for closer scrutiny. Here’s a great video from the Federal Communications Commission that drives the point home.
Criminals may also pose as government officials to extract personal information. A call from the government would throw anyone off guard –– and that’s exactly the goal. Instead of springing into action, take a moment to think. If it’s a legitimate request, you’ll be able to reach the agency via contact information on its “.gov” website.
Be extra suspicious of messages that come through text, social media and email asking for personal information or bank details. This is typically not how official communications arrive. Again, go directly to the source to find publicly available contact information.
Tip 2: Stay calm under pressure.
Scammers are good at creating “emergencies” that can scare even the savviest consumers into slipping up. Coordinating their pitches with actual events, such as the census or, sadly, the pandemic,3 is an effective way to play on heightened emotions.
One thing we learned from the pandemic is to be especially suspicious of texts, emails, phone calls and home visits related to the vaccine. (Yes, scammers even go door to door.) As always, keep personal medical and financial details private, and obtain information and medical care only from trusted providers.
Tip 3: Make passwords impenetrable.
If you don’t like updating passwords (who does?), you’ll be glad to learn this news from the U.S. government and other cybersecurity experts.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology advises that password strength is more important than regular updates, especially when two-factor authentication is in place.4 In fact, the constant need to devise ever more creative passwords can have the opposite effect: In an effort to make them memorable, we inadvertently make them weaker and easier to hack.
According to ConnectSafely.org, the strongest passwords are:
- Sufficiently long, aiming for a minimum of 12 characters
- A combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, symbols and numbers
- A passphrase, rather than a simple password, that you can remember but others couldn’t guess, like “YellowChocolate#56CadillacFi$h”5
Experts also recommend that passwords never be reused. Should you get hacked, all of your accounts could be compromised.
Using a password manager like LastPass or Bitwarden will eliminate the need to memorize or write down passwords. Many of these services offer both free and subscription options with a variety of security features. Acting as an encrypted digital vault, password managers auto-fill passwords and even replace weak ones for each of your accounts.
To learn other ways to protect yourself and discover your identity theft risk score, visit Amica’s comprehensive identity theft information resource center.
Already a victim? Here’s what you should do.
There are quick steps you can take to help reclaim your identity and mitigate damage.6 First, if you have identity fraud insurance, call your insurer right away to file a claim. Identity fraud insurance can help cover the costs of resolving the issue, as well as help you:7
- Obtain fraud documentation
- Connect with credit bureaus, creditors, government agencies and more
- File a police report and any affidavits for investigators
- Monitor your credit and identity in the near term
Next, you’ll want to alert your banks, utility companies and credit card companies. The sooner you report the fraud, the better. You may even be able to freeze your accounts before purchases are made. If you experience credit card fraud, you’re protected under the Fair Credit Billing Act, which states you’re only liable for up to $50 in charges. But, if someone steals your debit account or bank information, you could be liable for full charges.8
Next, consider calling the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) to put an alert on your credit reports. This lets creditors know that there may be fraudulent activity under your name — and they should be wary of companies that request information about you. You can also request a credit freeze, which prevents anyone from getting your credit information for a period of time.8
Finally, call the police to file a report. It’s important to have a record of the crime to help protect you from future fraudulent activity. You should also contact the FTC to report the identity theft by completing their online form or calling 877-438-4338. The FTC will give you proof of the identity theft and offer an action plan to help. Plus, when you report the crime, you’re giving important information to FBI investigators.
The bottom line: Protecting your identity is as critical as protecting your home and car.
You lock the doors to your home and car, and you may have an alarm system or other smart home technology. But how often do you think about protecting your identity? Many people don’t. Preventing identity theft and protecting yourself with insurance is just as important as safeguarding your home and car.
It’s important to protect your whole family, too. Believe it or not, anyone can experience identity theft, including children. According to the FTC, child identity theft can go undetected for years, discovered only in adulthood when credit checks are performed.9
In this high-tech, fast-paced world, knowing how to protect yourself from identity theft is more essential than ever. It takes vigilance to make prevention an ongoing priority, but it’s well worth the effort to protect your family’s financial future.
1 2022 Identity Fraud Study: The Virtual Battleground, Javelin Strategy & Research, March 2022.
2 New Data Shows FTC Received 2.8 Million Fraud Reports from Consumers in 2021, ftc.gov, 2022.
3 Fraud Alert: COVID-19 Scams, oig.hhs.gov, 2021.
4 Digital Identity Guidelines, NIST, 2022.
5 Quick-Guide to Secure Passwords, ConnectSafely.org, 2021.
6 10 Things To Do if Your Identity Is Stolen, U.S. News and World Report, July 2022.
7 What To Do if Your Identity Is Stolen: 10 Steps to Take, Bankrate, 2022.
8 Federal Trade Commission Consumer Advice: Lost or Stolen Credit, ATM and Debit Cards, 2022.
9 How to Protect Your Child From Identity Theft, consumer.ftc.gov, 2022.