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How to Avoid Identity Theft

Less of the worry, all of the convenience

Here are a few key steps you can take to protect yourself against online hackers and thieves.

Check activity regularly

Keeping an eye on your credit and banking activity is the best way to make sure you catch any nefarious transactions. Log in to your accounts regularly to look over statements and recent transactions. It’s also a good idea to set a transaction threshold so you’ll be notified when a purchase above that limit occurs. This can help you monitor significant account activity.

Consider creating a fraud alert on your credit report with any of the three major credit-reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. This tells lenders to confirm your identity first before extending credit, usually by giving you a call at a number on file. Alerts last 90 days, but they can always be renewed.

Be cautious

Before you click checkout at an online marketplace or merchant, remember to double check for signs of privacy and security protection. Look for a “TRUSTe” seal on any page, which demonstrates the site complies with Federal Trade Commission regulations. You should also look for “https” or “shttp” at the beginning of any web address, which signifies that the information is being sent over a secure server.

Never make online transactions when you’re using public or retail Wi-Fi hot spots. Wait until you get home or to another private and secure connection. Also, since any site can fall vulnerable to hacks, never store personal information and account numbers in an online marketplace or merchant site.

Look for information on websites to determine if communications and transactions are encoded during transmission, which can provide a strong protective layer against hackers. Financial institutions like Dominion Credit Union provide this sort of encryption for member transactions.

Change passwords

You need a strong password when you shop or conduct financial transactions online. Avoid passwords that include birth dates or kids’ or pets’ names. Try to create a unique code that mixes numbers, letters and symbols. It’s a pain, but make sure to vary your passwords across different sites rather than using the same one for every account. Change them regularly and, above all, keep them to yourself.

ID theft protection

If you don’t want to watch your financial activities like a hawk, you could opt to pay for ID theft protection. These services monitor suspicious activity on your accounts and notify you if something out-of-the-ordinary occurs. Some of the better-known are Protect Your Bubble, Identity Guard, LifeLock, and AllClear ID.

Take action

If there are signs that your personal data has been compromised, take action as soon as possible. Alert the financial services provider associated with the breached account. You can call the Federal Trade Commission at 877-438-4338 to register the incident or file an identity theft report online. Then, use a copy of the document to file a police report about what has occurred to cover all your bases.

You’ll also want to immediately place a fraud alert with the credit bureaus (contacting just one will reach all three) on your credit report or ask for a security or credit freeze. To request a freeze, contact each of the three major credit bureaus. This will ensure that lenders can’t get a copy of your credit history, so they won’t accommodate any thieves who might be trying to open new accounts under your name. In order to lift the freeze, either temporarily or permanently, you’ll have to notify each of the bureaus separately as well.

Anna Helhoski, NerdWallet