Imagine an email lurking in your inbox thanking you for your order of the latest tech gadget. The order is confirmed by the prominent display of the last four digits of your credit card. The ‘ship to’ address is in another city and state and addressed to someone of whom you have never heard. A rush of emotions set in as you quickly realize this is not a purchase you authorized; your personal information has been stolen and you have become a victim of identity theft.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), there were about 1.4 million reports of identity theft in 2020. That is double the number from 2019. Unfortunately, anyone with a Social Security number is a target for identity theft. According to Consumer Affairs, children, seniors, members of the military, social media users, previous victims of identity theft and the deceased are the population segments most commonly targeted with 2.5 million deceased identities stolen per year.

Helpful Steps to Prevent Identity Theft

There is no sure-fire way to prevent identity theft. However, helpful tips include:

  • Keep your personal information close and never share your Social Security number or passwords.
  • Create strong, complex passwords and initiate two-factor authentication when possible.
  • Limit personal information shared on social media. This can be accomplished by reviewing Privacy Settings.
  • Freeze your credit.
  • Regularly check credit reports.
  • Carefully discard financial statements and junk mail by shredding.
  • Use a digital wallet when online shopping.
  • Review all statements, accounts, credit card balances and medical “explanation of benefits” to ensure there are no fraudulent charges.
  • Use devices that are up-to-date, with secure connections and anti-malware, anti-virus software installed. Install regular updates and patches.
  • Never open, respond or click links in suspicious or unsolicited emails.
  • Be suspicious of unsolicited phone calls and never share personal information. Due to spoofing, err on the side of caution and if in doubt initiate a callback with a trusted number.
  • Never save credit card information on an account.
  • If traveling, contact the post office to hold your mail.
  • As always use common sense; if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

What should you do if your identity has been stolen?

Take a breath and jump into action. The Federal Trade Commission’s website, www.identitytheft.gov, is user friendly offering helpful tips and links to begin the recovery process. Step-by-step recovery instructions can be found through its “Browse Recover Steps” link. Other links on the website include a consolidated list of national consumer and health care companies that aid in reporting the theft.

Identity theft can happen to anyone. The best defense is to guard and keep your personal information close.