Here’s an idea for a New Year’s resolution you may not have considered — beefing up your identity protection and better defending your personal information from scammers. Going into 2022, prioritizing identity protection is more urgent than you may think. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported in 2021 that nearly $4 billion was lost due to fraud and identity theft, with an average loss of $500 per victim. Beyond the financial loss, identity theft can damage your credit report, which severely limits your options in applying for future loans, leasing a car, or purchasing a home.
Fortunately, there are simple ways you can safeguard your identity this year. Read on for our best New Year’s resolutions to add to your list.
Change Your Passwords
Review the passwords for all of your online accounts. Stealing a password is one of the most common tactics that fraudsters use to gain access to your personal information, so it’s extra important to make passwords as difficult as possible to guess. Avoid using birthdays, family member’s names, or pet’s names. Instead, pick a random word or phrase that you have no personal connection with and add numbers or special characteristics like @, 1, $, or 0 in place of the letters like “A,” “L,” “S,” or “O”. If you notice that you’ve used a password for more than one website, change it immediately. This will make it more difficult for fraudsters to access multiple accounts.
Review Your Social Media Profile(s)
Review your profiles on websites like Instagram and Facebook to make sure you haven’t revealed too much personal information. As a general rule, you want to avoid listing your date of birth, hometown, or any other personal details that may be used as password recovery security questions. Scammers know to look for these details so they can hack your private accounts. For the same reason, steer clear of social media posts that ask for details like the name of your first teacher or your favorite pet. You don’t know who else will view your comment, or how they may use that information.
Install VPN Software
Even if your internet service provider or mobile phone is password protected, hackers can still find ways to access your personal information through your computer or phone. Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) on your computer and phone effectively hides these devices.
Check Your Credit Report Regularly
Set a reminder to check your credit report monthly, or even weekly, for suspicious activity. Although this measure is not preventative, it still lets you minimize the damage that a fraudster might cause by opening up a new loan or credit card in your name. The sooner you spot fraud or identity theft, the sooner you can put an end to it.
Initiate a Credit Freeze
According to the FTC, a credit freeze restricts access to your credit report, which means new credit accounts — like a personal loan or a new credit card — can’t be opened while the freeze is in place. While many consumers only put a credit freeze in place if their information has been compromised, this can also be an effective preventative measure. Even if a fraudster accesses your social security number or driver’s license number, a credit freeze prevents them from opening any new accounts in your name. Thus, the amount of damage scammers can do is severely limited. And if you need to open a new account, you can undo the freeze by reaching out to the credit bureau that put it in place. In some cases, like with AAA Identity Champion, your credit can be locked and unlocked with the touch of a button — giving you the maximum amount of control.
Following these tips will certainly slow scammers down, but it never hurts to have a little extra protection. AAA Identity Champion monitors your personal information across multiple platforms, including social media and the dark web, and can assist in the case of fraud or identity theft. Click here for more information on AAA’s available plans.