Identity theft ranked second on the Federal Trade Commission’s 2017 summary of consumer complaints, behind debt collection. And in light of customer data breaches in 2018 that struck well-known, large companies and involved millions of customers, 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 Affected by a Breach

The September 2018 breach of a major hotel chain, announced in November 2018, impacted as many as 500 million guests, after hackers gained access to the chain’s reservation system between 2014 and 2018. Travelers’ names, mailing addresses and other contact information, arrival and departure dates, and other personally identifiable information were compromised.

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.

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 (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), and request a fraud alert or a credit freeze. Services like this can serve as an extra layer of protection if someone other than a designated third party tries to access your credit report.

3. Stay Abreast of Your Credit Reports

Although 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.

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 the credit bureau the lender or finance company uses for credit inquiries to request the freeze be temporarily removed.

4. Make the Most of Available Credit Card Alerts

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a personal assistant to monitor your credit card activity and payment due dates to help you protect yourself from identity theft? You do: many credit card issuers offer email and text alerts to make managing your credit easier, and it only takes about a minute to set them up online or via your card issuer’s app.

The available alerts may include those that help you manage your spending — such as balance notifications, payment reminders, statement notifications and general alerts — and they may help you spot identity theft. Transaction alerts are a good example: If you rarely make purchases over $500, you can set up your account to be notified when a charge above that amount occurs. When you receive the alert, you can readily identify whether the transaction is one you made or a possible indicator of identity theft.

5. 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 on 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 when dining at a restaurant. 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 you receive a call from someone who claims to be calling from your financial institution, your employer’s human resource department or even the Internal Revenue Service, do not give them any information. Instead, ask that the caller give you a number you can call to verify his or her identity.

6. Invest in Identity Protection

Discover cardmembers have yet another option for helping protect their identities and personally identifiable information. As a Disover Cardmember, you have the option of adding Discover’s Identity Theft Protection for just $15 per month.This comprehensive service monitors all 3 credit bureaus for key changes2, thousands of dark websites and more for potential threats to your identity. In the case of ID theft, You can access up to $1 million of Identity theft insurance for legal expense, reimbursement of stolen funds, lost wages and more covered expenses3 — and count on expert service from 100 percent US-based fraud resolution specialists.

Your digital DNA is everywhere, so it’s smart to do something to protect it. By taking advantage of the various alerts and programs that are available — and applying some common sense in how you handle your sensitive information — you can enjoy greater peace of mind the next time the media announces a possible breach of customer data.

 

Disclosures:

1 – This product is only intended for the Primary credit cardmember whose accounts are open, in good standing and have an email address on file. It can only be agreed upon, purchased and delivered online. This product is optional and voluntary.

2 – Key changes include: New accounts, credit inquiries, address changes, potentially negative information such as delinquencies, new public records.

3 – Identity Theft Insurance is underwritten by insurance company subsidiaries or affiliates of American International Group, Inc. (AIG). 175 Water Street, New York, New York 10038. Please refer to the actual policies for terms, conditions, and exclusions of coverage. Coverage may not be available in all jurisdictions.

 

Originally published July 13, 2016.

Updated July 17, 2019.

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.