Simple, Smart Ways to Help Prevent Identity Theft

Stay two steps ahead of 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 of dollars are stolen each year as a result—and identity theft is partially fueled by some of 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. Identity theft prevention can start by taking these simple steps to stay safe.

1. Stay safe online

As our lives become increasingly digitally connected, it’s important to learn how to keep your digital identity safe. Here’s how you can get started.

  • Avoid sharing personal information on social media. Did you know that social media can be used to gather personal details that can later be used for identity theft? Be mindful of the information you’re sharing and keep any personally identifiable information (PII)—including your full name, Social Security number, driver’s license number, bank account number, email address and passport number—off your social media profiles (that includes taking pictures of them!). Never share your PII through messages, especially with individuals or companies you do not know. 
  • Don’t access personal accounts over unsecured wireless networks. If you’ve ever accessed your bank account over the public Wi-Fi network in a coffee shop or library, you’re putting yourself at risk. Even your home Wi-Fi network, if unsecured, can open you up to theft. Make sure your home Wi-Fi network is secure with a password and be extra cautious about public Wi-Fi networks. It is probably best to not access sensitive information, such as your bank account, on a public Wi-Fi network—you never know who may be watching. 
  • Use complex passwords and change them regularly. Weak or stolen passwords are a top cause of data theft, but they’re also one of the easiest things to improve. Practice better password behavior by never reusing the same password across multiple accounts and using a password manager when possible. Never leave passwords anywhere they’re easily accessible.
  • Check for spyware or malware on your device. Antivirus software programs can be run to detect any malicious software on your computer or phone that may be monitoring your activity without your authorization.
  • Be smart when paying online. Shopping online? Only use third-party payment gateways you trust to make sure your purchases are secure. If you’re a Capital One customer, you can also take advantage of virtual card numbers to disguise your card number when paying online.

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 or download an attachment, 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 a legitimate phone number or logging on to the legitimate site. If it’s a financial institution or credit card company, call them back using a phone 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 or log directly in to your account to make sure a thief hasn’t redirected your mail to another address. Are you a Capital One customer? Keep track of spending in real time with instant purchase notifications through the Capital One Mobile app.

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 preapproved credit card offers. What you do keep, put in a secure place, such as a locked file cabinet or a safe, in your home. Remove your Social Security number from anywhere it doesn’t need to be, such as checks or statements. When it comes to mail, don’t leave outgoing mail (e.g., 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 location—whether it’s an ATM or a gas station pump—use caution. Devices such as credit card skimmers look like regular card terminals, but they can secretly harvest your data. Beware of shoulder surfing, or someone watching over your shoulder to nab valuable information—such as your password, ATM PIN, or card number—as you key it into your cell phone, laptop, ATM or PIN pad. 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 includes only accounts and activities that you’ve authorized. You can check your credit score for free anytime with CreditWise® from Capital One. If you think you might be the victim of fraudulent activity, there are options to report it.

These tips are basic but crucial things to remember to keep data safe, but they’re just the beginning. Learn more about preventing identity theft, and if you’re a Capital One customer, learn about how to report suspicious activity on your card or account.


The information contained herein is shared for educational purposes only and it does not provide a comprehensive list of all financial operations considerations or best practices. 

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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