How To Protect Yourself From Identity Theft

In 2013, a data breach at Yahoo compromised 3 billion accounts, according to the company.  Facebook announced in 2019 that 540 million user records were exposed on the Amazon cloud server. Data breaches and security hacks at major companies like these expose sensitive information, and they're becoming more common.
Advertising Disclosure.

Advertiser Disclosure: Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone. This article may contain links from our advertisers. For more information, please see our Advertising Policy.

identity theft protection
Table of Contents
  1. The High Cost of Identity Theft
  2. How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
    1. Guard Your Private Information
    2. Minimize What You Carry in Your Wallet
    3. Review Your Account Statements
    4. Review Your Credit Reports
    5. Send and Receive Less Confidential Mail
    6. Shred Documents with Confidential Information
    7. Don’t Browse Confidential Sites in Public
    8. Use Complex Account Passwords
    9. Be Suspicious When Approached
  3. Actively Monitor Your Credit Profile

Whether or not you know it, you’re at risk of identity theft.  

In 2013, a data breach at Yahoo compromised 3 billion accounts, according to the company.  Facebook announced in 2019 that 540 million user records were exposed on the Amazon cloud server.

Data breaches and security hacks at major companies like these expose sensitive information, and they’re becoming more common.

It’s likely that you or someone you know has had their personal information exposed at least once.

Military members and veterans may be at greater risk because the Department of Defense and its contractors frequently used social security numbers to identify service members. The Department of Defense began relying on DOD Identification numbers more to mitigate the risk, but it’s hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube.

The High Cost of Identity Theft

Getting your credit card stolen is inconvenient, but your credit card company should protect you.

Having your debit card stolen is usually worse. Thieves can empty your bank account in a matter of days or hours – causing you to bounce checks or overdraft your account. 

But having your identity stolen is the worst-case scenario. It can decimate your credit score, cause you legal issues and cost hours of your time to clean up the mess.

So what can you do?

How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

The rise of digital money management makes it easy to track your cash flow and budget from anywhere there’s an internet connection.

But, making the leap from paper to cyberspace can be dangerous.

While it’s impossible to protect yourself against every data breach, you can take some actions to limit your exposure.

Here are some tips to protect yourself.

Guard Your Private Information

Safeguard any documents that can be used to steal your identity, including your checks, Social Security card, birth certificates, marriage certificates, passports, military records and other personal documents.

Keep these under lock and key in a fireproof safe or safety deposit box.

Minimize What You Carry in Your Wallet

Never carry anything in your wallet that you don’t absolutely need. That includes your social security card and the miniature versions of your birth certificate or marriage certificate. That way, if you lose your wallet or it gets stolen, the thief won’t score every possible piece of your confidential information.

Review Your Account Statements

Review your bank and credit card statements weekly to make sure there aren’t any fraudulent charges.

Criminals will often slip in small charges that they hope you’ll miss.

Consider importing your bank and credit account transactions into an online or desktop financial software at least once a week. These programs can help you check amounts against your receipts and categorize them for your budget.

Review Your Credit Reports

Don’t forget to review your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) at least once per year. You can print or view your entire file at annualcreditreport.com.

If you can, space out your requests to pull a different report every four months to minimize the impact on your credit score.

Review your report carefully to make sure it is accurate and alll the listed accounts are yours.

Send and Receive Less Confidential Mail

Identity thieves love to steal confidential documents from your mailbox, and they don’t even have to live next door to do it.

Having a locking mailbox isn’t enough protection. Criminals can change your mailing address without your knowledge, sending your mail across the country. Stay a step ahead of thieves by going paperless. Opt-in to receive as many bills, account statements and confidential documents as you can via email or online account.

Visit OptOutPreScreen.com to have your name removed from direct marketing lists. Doing so will minimize your certain types of junk mail like preapproved credit card and insurance offers.

Shred Documents with Confidential Information

Prevent identity theft
Shredding documents is a must!

Shred anything and everything someone could use against you. This includes personal documents, old medical or financial statements and duplicate checks.

Since not every financial institution is on the paperless bandwagon yet, shred any document with confidential information that you don’t need.

Pre-approved credit card offers, bills and account statements can be used against you because they contain your name, address, account number and sometimes even your Social Security number. That’s all a thief needs to open an account in your name and run up a line of credit. 

Don’t Browse Confidential Sites in Public

Never visit a confidential site, like your bank or investment accounts, from unsecured locations unless you have your own VPN service. Refrain from checking any important accounts at coffee shops, libraries or other places with a public internet connection.

Don’t check any of these accounts on a public computer either.

Use Complex Account Passwords

Never use simple passwords that a thief could guess, like your birthday, address or your child’s name. The best passwords are at least twelve characters and include a combination of letters, numbers and symbols. Change passwords for your financial accounts every few months to lock out any thieves who may have gained access.

Be Suspicious When Approached

Be suspicious if you receive an email, letter or phone call from someone who says they’re from a government agency, bank, credit card company or any other financial institution.

Identity thieves will pose as trusted representatives so they can con you into giving up your confidential information. Always ask for their name, phone number or email so you can call them back. Then, do a web search to see if their story checks out.

If they drop the name of a legitimate agency or company, call the agency or company’s main line to verify that the person works there and there’s a legitimate need for them to contact you.

Actively Monitor Your Credit Profile

Monitoring your credit profile is the most proactive way to protect yourself. Each of the three major credit bureaus will give you a free credit report once a year. You can stagger these and get one report every four months.

If you want to take things a step further, sign up for active monitoring and identity theft insurance. These services usually come with a monthly or annual fee, but they include active monitoring and insurance that will cover the cost of fraudulent charges.

Note: If you believe you have been the victim of a cybercrime or just want to learn more, visit the Federal Trade Commission website.

The government-sponsored site, OnGuardOnline.gov, also gives useful tips about securing your computer and your personal information.

Get Instant Access
FREE Weekly Updates! Enter your information to join our mailing list.

Posted In:

About Ryan Guina

Ryan Guina is The Military Wallet's founder. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over six years on active duty in the USAF and is a current member of the Illinois Air National Guard.

Ryan started The Military Wallet in 2007 after separating from active duty military service and has been writing about financial, small business, and military benefits topics since then. He also writes about personal finance and investing at Cash Money Life.

Ryan uses Personal Capital to track and manage his finances. Personal Capital is a free software program that allows him to track his net worth, balance his investment portfolio, track his income and expenses, and much more. You can open a free Personal Capital account here.

Featured In: Ryan's writing has been featured in the following publications: Forbes, Military.com, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, Reserve & National Guard Magazine (print and online editions), Military Influencer Magazine, Cash Money Life, The Military Guide, USAA, Go Banking Rates, and many other publications.

Reader Interactions

Comments

    Leave A Comment:

    Comments:

    About the comments on this site:

    These responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Load More Comments

The Military Wallet is a property of Three Creeks Media. Neither The Military Wallet nor Three Creeks Media are associated with or endorsed by the U.S. Departments of Defense or Veterans Affairs. The content on The Military Wallet is produced by Three Creeks Media, its partners, affiliates and contractors, any opinions or statements on The Military Wallet should not be attributed to the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, the Dept. of Defense or any governmental entity. If you have questions about Veteran programs offered through or by the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, please visit their website at va.gov. The content offered on The Military Wallet is for general informational purposes only and may not be relevant to any consumer’s specific situation, this content should not be construed as legal or financial advice. If you have questions of a specific nature consider consulting a financial professional, accountant or attorney to discuss. References to third-party products, rates and offers may change without notice.

Advertising Notice: The Military Wallet and Three Creeks Media, its parent and affiliate companies, may receive compensation through advertising placements on The Military Wallet; For any rankings or lists on this site, The Military Wallet may receive compensation from the companies being ranked and this compensation may affect how, where and in what order products and companies appear in the rankings and lists. If a ranking or list has a company noted to be a “partner” the indicated company is a corporate affiliate of The Military Wallet. No tables, rankings or lists are fully comprehensive and do not include all companies or available products.

Editorial Disclosure: Editorial content on The Military Wallet may include opinions. Any opinions are those of the author alone, and not those of an advertiser to the site nor of  The Military Wallet.