Simple, Smart Ways to Prevent Identity Theft

Stay two steps ahead of hackers and identity thieves with these helpful tips

Is it possible to completely prevent identity theft? Millions of individuals are affected each year by identity theft, whether by stolen credit card numbers or fraudulent accounts created using names and social security numbers. It’s big business for identity thieves—tens of billions are stolen each year as a result—and is partially fueled by the thousands of data breaches that occur each year.

While you can’t prevent a breach from exposing your private information, there are ways to reduce the risks of fraud or identity theft—and minimize its impact.

1. Stay safe online

This is very important as our lives grow increasingly connected. Even connected home devices can open us up to data thieves, like the casino that was hacked through a smart thermostat in a fish tank. Be wary of everything you do online:

  • Check to make sure sites you’re browsing are secure. Look for an “https” or a lock symbol next to the site’s URL. This indicates it’s an encrypted, safe connection.
  • Don’t access personal accounts over unsecured wireless networks. If you’ve ever considered accessing your bank account over the wifi network in a coffee shop, you’re putting yourself at risk. Even your home wifi network, if unsecured, can open you up to theft. 
  • Use complex passwords and change them regularly. Weak or stolen passwords are a top cause cause for data theft, but they’re also one of the easiest things to improve. Practice better password behavior, never reuse the same password across multiple accounts, and don’t leave written passwords where anyone can find them.
  • Check for spyware or malware on your device. Programs can be run to detect any malicious software running on your computer or phone that’s monitoring your activity.
  • Be smart when paying online. Shopping online? Make sure any third-party payment gateways you’re using are secure and verified.

2. Don’t give out personal information to unverified sources

Whether it’s a suspicious phone call or a convincing-looking phishing email that asks you to click a link, always think twice before giving out any personal information. If an email sounds overly urgent, asking you to respond right away, that should be a red flag. Confirm the request first by calling back or logging onto the site. If it's a bank or credit card company, call them back using a number from your bill or your card.

3. Regularly review bills and account statements for unusual activity

Identity thieves often start small, with the idea you won’t notice charges or suspicious activity. Review your accounts online frequently and make sure you recognize all charges, checks, and withdrawals. If a regular bill doesn’t arrive, call to make sure a thief hasn’t redirected your mail to another address. 

4. Protect your paper, too

Safeguard important documents at home and shred anything with sensitive information that you no longer need, such as paid bills, receipts, or pre-approved credit card offers. What you do keep, put in a secure place in your home, like a locked file cabinet or a safe. Remove your social security number from anywhere it doesn't need to be, like checks or statements. When it comes to mail, don't leave outgoing mail (like bill payments) in an unsecured mailbox. Tip: If you’re planning to be away from home, call or sign up for USPS Hold Mail Service until you’re back.

5. Be aware of your surroundings when using your card

Whenever you’re using your physical card at a point-of-sale—whether it’s an ATM or a gas station pump—use caution. Devices like credit card skimmers look like regular card terminals, but can secretly harvest your data. Be conscious of people standing nearby when you are making purchases or using an ATM. Thieves have been known to use their cell phones to monitor and steal information.

6. Check your credit report regularly

At least once a year, make sure the information in your credit report is accurate and only includes accounts and activities that you’ve authorized. You can check your credit score for free anytime with CreditWise® from Capital One.

These tips are basic but crucial things anyone should keep in mind to keep data safe, but they’re just the beginning. For more information on preventing identity theft, learn more here.

This site is for education purposes. The material provided on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice or to indicate the availability or suitability of any Capital One product or service to your unique circumstances. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.

Capital One does not provide, endorse, or guarantee any third-party product, service, information or recommendation listed above. The third parties listed are solely responsible for their products and services, and all trademarks listed are the property of their respective owners.

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