4 Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Identity Theft

Identity theft ranks second on the Federal Trade Commission’s 2015 summary of consumer complaints, behind debt collection. 1 And in light of customer data breaches that have struck mainstream retailers like Home Depot, Target and even the United States Postal Service in recent years, it’s more important than ever to be informed about the ways to protect your identity. Here are a few simple steps you can take to reduce your risk of identity theft.

1. Don’t Wait to Find Out If You’ve Been Impacted by a Breach

The December 2013 Target data breach impacted an estimated 70 million customer records, and compromised more than 40 million customer credit and debit card numbers. 2 Though security experts estimate that identity thieves sold up to three million stolen cards on the black market, the damage was contained thanks to swift responses by credit issuers, and customers. Once the stolen cards were flagged as such, they were cancelled, according to Krebs on Security, which originally reported the Target breach. 3

If you suspect that your sensitive information has been compromised, be proactive about contacting your financial institution and credit card issuers to report the incident. They will determine next steps, which may include reissuing cards and account numbers, and can advise if you should establish new PIN numbers, passwords and security codes.

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2. Take Advantage of Credit Monitoring

If your personal data was breached and the company responsible for the breach offers free credit monitoring, take advantage of the service. It will notify you of both legitimate and potentially fraudulent activity (like someone trying to open an account in your name).

If you suspect your data has been breached, you may also contact one of the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and Transunion), and request a free initial fraud alert for 90 days. (You can extend the service as well, for a small fee.) This is essentially an extra layer of protection that will alert you if someone other than a designated third party tries to access your credit report.

3. Stay Abreast of Your Credit Reports

Though credit monitoring and fraud alerts keep you informed about your credit-related activity, they require that you take action to prevent fraudulent activity from progressing, and won’t necessarily prevent theft on an existing account. If you know your data was compromised and/or are concerned that thieves have your social security number, you may consider initiating a credit freeze with the three major credit bureaus.

With a freeze, new creditors are not able to access your credit report, which is typically a condition of opening a new credit account. While a freeze won’t negatively impact your credit score or prevent you from accessing your own credit report, it may take longer to secure new loans or credit lines because to do so, you’ll need to contact each of the three major credit bureaus to request the freeze be temporarily removed. 4

4. Be Mindful of How Much Information You Give Up

Maiden names, birthdays, zip codes and even the financial institutions you use are easy to discover in social media when your account privacy settings aren’t secure. Be protective of the information you share at the doctor’s office, with retailers and even in a restaurant, even if it means challenging a policy, or appearing “difficult.” (If a restaurant or merchant’s credit card processing system is temporarily “down,” for example, do not allow a member of the staff to write your credit card information on a piece of paper for later processing.)

If a caller claims to be from your financial institution, your employer’s human resource department or even the Internal Revenue Service, do not give any information. Instead, ask that the caller give you a number you can call to verify his or her identity.

 

Legal Disclaimer: This site is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for professional advice. The material on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice and does not indicate the availability of any Discover product or service. It does not guarantee that Discover offers or endorses a product or service. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.

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