How to prevent identity theft

I am a victim of identity theft. Thieves stole my wallet from my wallet and were able to find everything they needed to steal my identity online. They took advantage of a system that government, law enforcement and financial institutions haven’t done much to improve.

But there are some quick and easy steps you can take to reduce the chances of your identity being stolen and help mitigate the damage if it is stolen.

freeze your credit

It takes 15 minutes to do this with the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian), and even less time to unblock when you apply for a loan. Freezing and unfreezing your credit is free – you don’t need any paid “upgrades”.

Check your credit report at least once a year

You are eligible to receive one free copy of your credit report from each bureau each year. Double check and make sure everything looks correct. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com to request yours.

Check your password

Make sure your sensitive accounts, such as your email and bank accounts, have strong and unique passwords. If you use the same password everywhere, one account gets hacked and your data is compromised, all your accounts are vulnerable. PC Magazine, Wired, and CNET all offer advice on password managers so you don’t have to remember every password manager. Check “Am I encrypted” to see which passwords have appeared in a data breach.

Add two-factor authentication anywhere

Yes, it’s annoying to wait an extra 10 seconds for a text or authentication alert when you log into your email or bank account. But this is the best way to protect them. Two factors in my Gmail account mean someone who steals my identity will never have full access to my bank account or credit card.

Sign up to receive alerts from the bank

Log in to your bank and credit card accounts to learn how to add text or email alerts to notify you immediately when someone tries to open a new account.

Never give anyone your bank password or verification code

Anyone who asks you to tell them your password or the code you just texted is trying to give it access to your account.

Check your bank statements regularly

See any deals you don’t recognize? Call your bank immediately to investigate.

Opt out of pre-screened credit card offers

These can be data goldmines for thieves. Shred anything you receive before throwing them away. Visit optoutprescreen.com to block them.

Don’t keep your Social Security card in your wallet

Due to countless data breaches, thieves may still have other ways to obtain your Social Security number. But at least don’t give them.

Get your mail back in time and stop if you’re going out of town

Stolen mail is one of the easiest ways for thieves to get your information. The person who stole my identity was arrested with a load of stolen mail and a tool to access their in-car mailbox. Minimize the chance of mail theft, especially if you’re expecting any sensitive financial documents like a new debit card or checkbook.

Limit your digital presence

Be thoughtful about what you share. Does the website selling your favorite protein powder need to know your real birthday? Have you changed your social media profile settings as much as possible or can anyone see what your hometown is? If you want to go a step further, use a service like DeleteMe, which removes your personal information from data aggregators (for a fee).

About the Times Utilities News Team

This article is from The Times Utilities News Team. Our mission is to make a difference to the lives of Southern Californians by publishing information that solves problems, answers questions, and aids decision-making. We serve audiences in and around Los Angeles—including current New York Times subscribers and diverse communities whose needs our coverage has historically failed to meet.

How can we be useful to you and your community? Email Utility (at) latimes.com or one of our reporters: Matt Ballinger, Jon Healey, Ada Tseng, Jessica Roy and Karen Garcia.

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