Having your identity stolen can be financially damaging, and a record 16.7 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2017. Knowing the steps to help protect your credit can help you avoid being blindsided.

If you’ve followed along with this series on credit habits to adopt in your 20s, you’ve also read Organize Your Financial LifeBuild Your Budget and Track ExpensesGet to Know Your Credit Report, and Be Selective About Credit Card Choices. Wrapping up this series on the top credit habits to adopt in your 20s is a primer on how to help protect your credit information.

Know the Signs of Identity Theft

Safeguarding your personal information begins with knowing how identity thieves get access to your personal details. For example, an identity thief can:

  • Steal your purse or wallet
  • Access your information using stolen bills, financial documents or receipts
  • Solicit your information via phone or email scams
  • Use hacking software to steal your information over an unsecured wireless network

If an identity thief is able to get your name, Social Security number, birth date or other personal information through any of these methods, they could potentially use it to try and apply for a credit card (or other financial account) in your name.

You may not realize your credit has been compromised until you start getting collection calls for a credit card balance that someone else has run up in your name. By that point, the damage to your credit score has already been done.

Other signs that could indicate a stolen identity include:

  • There are bank account transactions or credit card purchases you don’t recognize
  • New credit inquiries or accounts you don’t remember opening show up on your credit report
  • Some of your mail goes missing or you’re getting mail from billing agencies you don’t recognize
  • You’re denied for credit, even though you believe you have a good credit score

How to Help Protect Your Credit

Figuring out how to help protect your credit isn’t rocket science. It really comes down to how you manage your personal information. With that in mind, here are some tips for helping to keep your credit safe:

1. Protect Your Information Physically

First things first — make sure your financial documents aren’t accessible to identity thieves. Keep your Social Security card and your birth certificate stashed away where no one can get to them. Opt for paperless statements from your bank, credit card company or anyone you pay bills to. If you can’t go paperless, consider regularly using a shredder, so you’re not leaving a paper trail that an identity thief could use to wreck your credit.

2. Go Low-Key When You’re Online

Social media is commonplace for 20-somethings, but when it comes to sharing, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. Posting things like your mother’s maiden name or the name of your first pet on Facebook may seem harmless, but identity thieves are on the lookout for those kinds of details. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t be broadcasting things like your Social Security number on social media either.

3. Protect Your Devices

Nearly 70 percent of millennials have used mobile banking to manage their dollars and cents, and 42 percent of millennials use their smartphones to comparison shop and 24 percent are making purchases from their mobile device. If you rely on your phone or tablet to check your bank account balance, pay bills or shop, take care to use secure connections when getting online. Steer clear of using public WiFi and lock your devices with a unique password. If you’re using a laptop, make sure your malware and antivirus protection are up-to-date.

4. Set up Account Alerts

Setting up account alerts is a relatively easy way to detect identity theft. For example, if your credit card company or bank offers it, you may be able to set up an alert to notify you when a transaction posts that’s over a certain dollar amount. If someone steals your credit card number and uses it to make a purchase, getting an alert can help you stop them in their tracks sooner rather than later.

5. Keep an Eye on Your Credit Report

Your credit report includes a list of your various credit accounts. If you’re checking your credit report on a regular basis, it should be obvious if there’s a new account or inquiry for credit showing up that you don’t remember applying for. In terms of how often you should be checking your credit report, it’s good idea to pull your credit reports from all three credit bureaus at least once a year; check out the free resource AnnualCreditReport.com.

6. Invest in Identity and Fraud Protection

As a Discover cardmember, you have yet another option to help protect your identity and personally identifiable information: Discover Identity Theft Protection1. For $15 per month, this comprehensive service offers credit bureau alerts for key changes2, as well as email and text alerts and digital dashboard access. You can access $1M of Identity Theft Insurance — for legal expenses, reimbursement of stolen funds, lost wages and more covered expenses3 — and count on expert service from 100 percent U.S.-based fraud resolution specialists.

 

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 May 25, 2017.

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.