7 Easy Ways to Avoid Identity Theft

It seems as if we hear of another data breach every couple of weeks. Hackers are gaining access to consumers' personal and sensitive information with frightening frequency these days, and it seems as if no one is safe. Everyone's favorite super store, Target, was the victim of a massive data breach in 2013. In 2014, Yahoo was hit and 500 million accounts were compromised. In fact, there is a list of companies that have been targeted, and chances are that you weren't even aware of most of them. So what does that mean for you?

Most experts in identity theft will admit that there is no foolproof way to protect yourself completely. In this digital age, your information is in far too many places for you to completely safeguard it. (See the companies mentioned above, for starters.) There are, however, steps that you can take to make it more difficult for a thief to get a hold of your data. While you might not be able to make it impossible for someone to take over your accounts or your identity, you certainly don't need to just hand them your Social Security number, either. A big issue with being the victim of such a crime is that it can take several months to sort it all out. It is unsurprisingly difficult to clear your name (and your credit) after an identity theft.

As Nick Clements mentions in his Forbes article, "Identity Theft: How to Protect Yourself Or Resolve It," there are two types of identity theft: account takeover and identity takeover. In the former, a hacker gains access to your online accounts and transfers money out of them. In the latter, someone finds your personal information (like your Social Security number) and opens credit cards and other lines of credit in your name. But here are some things you can do to protect your identity:

1. Be smart about what you do with your personal information

  • Don't give out your Social Security number unless it is absolutely necessary. This includes doctor's offices. It is ok to leave that line blank on your intake forms.
  • Don't keep your Social Security card in your wallet.
  • Never put your Social Security number, any password, or other private information in an email, text, or any other request that you receive from a stranger. If a company with which you do business needs to verify your identity, they will most likely require you to log in directly through their website instead of in an email.
  • Keep other private information private as well. This includes anything that can be used as a password prompt: mother's maiden name, first pet's name, the street on which you grew up, your high school's mascot, etc. There is no reason you should ever post this information, especially on Facebook (not even for a fun list that your friends invite you to complete).