How to Protect Yourself From Identity Theft

As our identities and personal information become more regularly available on the internet, our risk of having our identities stolen increases. According to the Insurance Information Institute, there were 4.8 million identity theft and fraud reports received by the FTC in 2020, up 45% from 3.3 million in 2019. From an organizational standpoint, the number was equally as shocking, with a new company experiencing identity theft every 14 seconds. 

The road to recovery from having your identity stolen is no easy task in itself. In 2021 alone, over 140 million hours were spent by identity theft victims trying to resolve their issues. Not only should you protect your ID within your personal life, but also in the work environment. In this article, we will be reviewing how to prevent identity theft and what to do if you fall victim. 

“So much of our personal information is available online through various social media and other avenues,” said David Freisner, Wealth Management Advisor at Fortune Financial Advisors. “This can allow someone to piece together portions of our lives to steal our identity. While we are aware of the basics of protecting ourselves, there are other practices we need to employ to minimize our chances of ID theft.”

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Preventing ID Theft

Although you may not be able to completely prevent having your identity stolen, there are steps you can take to help minimize your risk. The following are possible preventative steps to reduce the risk of having your identity stolen: 

  • Back up all of your data at least once a week. When doing this, ensure you keep all sensitive files on removable drives or secure storage devices. 
  • Never download documents or open email attachments from people or entities you don’t know. Scammers will often ask for your phone number or other sensitive information, stating that it’s urgent or they need you to call them. 
  • Don’t click on ads when browsing the internet. Hackers will often use online advertisements to gain access to your system through harmless appearing links. 
  • Be aware of what you are posting on social media. Never post where you have been or where you are going (i.e., vacation). It leaves a trail for criminals to see when you are most vulnerable to being hacked, robbed, scammed or extorted. 
    • Never post personal financial gains or pictures of money that you may have won, inherited, earned, etc. 
    • Never post your vacation dates or when you will be out of town for extended periods of time. 

He also advises using the services of ID theft professionals. “You should also consider subscribing to an identity theft protection company that will notify you if someone attempts to open an account or secure a loan using your Social Security number,” said Freisner.

To further prevent identity theft, we recommend installing antispyware and antivirus software to prevent malicious software from becoming embedded in your system, updating software to keep protection current or setting up those updates to take place automatically. As a final preventative, keep firewalls on at all times, keep operating systems up to date, turn off computers when not in use and only use secure connections when in public places. 


Social Networking & Security Theft

When signing up for social networking accounts, you are opening the door to potential identity theft since most social networking sites require you to divulge some level of personal information. Those risk activities include:

  • Using low or no privacy settings
  • Accepting invitations to connect with unfamiliar persons
  • Downloading free apps to use on your profile
  • Participating in surveys that require divulging personal information
  • Clicking on links leading to other websites
  • Email scams (phishing) where you update your networking profiles
  • Not having installed current security software to prevent malicious software from being loaded onto your system

Refrain from divulging overly personal information on social media platforms, including extended trips, earnings (prize money, inheritance, etc.) or other information that is private such as bank account information or your social security number. 


Smartphone Safety

Smartphones present a unique risk to identity theft due to the amount of personal information stored on the device, along with data transmitted from the device. This includes passwords saved to the phone, bank account information, credit cards, information within apps and so on. Data stored within the device is at increased risk when moving in and out of Wi-Fi service areas, firewalls and unsecure hotspots that create more risk of exposure. Password protect your device and follow these steps to ensure security: 

  • Install security software designed for smartphones (antivirus and malware)
  • Don’t open suspicious links — and verify the site is secure (HTTPS:) before providing any personal information
  • Install a phone finder app to find your phone if it becomes lost or stolen
  • Enroll in a backup or wiping program
  • Limit activities in public Wi-Fi spaces

Smartphones are just as likely if not more likely to be hacked by a scammer due to their frequent usage. It is easy to fall into a hacker’s trap with the different advertisements and impersonators that are waiting to steal your information. Be alert and question all unknown text messages and phone calls you may receive before answering. 


Fair Credit Billing Act & Electronic Fund Transfer Act

If your bank information is stolen, the Fair Credit Billing Act specifies your maximum liability for unauthorized credit card charges is $50. 

ATM, debit cards and electronic transfers fall under the Electronic Fund Transfer Act and produce a different liability exposure. Here is what you should know about reporting fraud: 

  • If unauthorized purchases or transfers are made, you have only two business days after the statement is received to report the unauthorized activity and limit your liability to $50.
  • After that, your maximum liability is $500 for up to 60 days after the statement is mailed.
  • After 60 days, you are exposed to unlimited liability.


What to do if you Fall Victim to ID Theft

It happened – your identity was stolen, but don’t panic. Here is a list of steps to follow when you fall victim to identity theft:

Notify creditors and banks to put a fraud alert on your credit report. 

  • Once you place a fraud alert with any of the three credit reporting agencies, the alert is placed on all three agencies. The fraud alert is suitable for 90 days.
  • If you file a police report or complete the ID theft complaint with the FTC, the extended fraud alert remains in effect for seven years.

Check your credit report annually.

  • Put a freeze on your reports if you’re a victim. This locks all your credit info and prevents your information from being released to new creditors.
  • Contact the FTC to file an ID theft report. This provides future protection against unauthorized transactions.

Go to the police.

  • Confirm the police report lists all fraud accounts and provides the police with a copy of the FTC ID theft report.

Contact creditors.

  • Notify them in writing and include a copy of your ID theft report. 


Procedures to Follow Post-Theft

Once you have followed the steps listed above, it is essential to reinstate your identity’s safety to reduce your risk of having your identity stolen again. 

  • Contact appropriate credit reporting agencies. By sending a copy of your ID theft report to the consumer reporting agencies, fraudulent accounts should be blocked from appearing on your credit reports. 
  • Change all passwords and email accounts. 
  • Contact the Social Security fraud hotline if there has been fraudulent usage. Ask for your Personal Earnings & Benefits Statement to check for inaccuracies. 
  • Get a new driver’s license to update your driver’s license number.  
  • Contact your telephone and utility companies to alert them if an identity thief attempts to open a new account in your name using a utility bill as proof of residence.


Turn to the Experts at Fortune Financial

Although difficult to prevent, it is vital to understand cautionary measures and what to do if your identity is stolen. For more information on identity theft regarding your finances, please get in touch with a Fortune Financial Advisor. 


Important Note

This material is provided for educational purposes only and does not constitute investment advice. The information contained herein is based on current tax laws, which may change in the future. Fortune Financial Advisors cannot be held responsible for any direct or incidental loss resulting from applying any of the information provided in this publication or from any other source mentioned. The information provided in these materials does not constitute any legal, tax or accounting advice. Please consult with a qualified professional for this type of advice. The information provided above is obtained from publicly available sources and is reliable. However, no representation or warranty is made as to its accuracy or completeness.