Identity theft and fraud are growing problems that can have severe financial and legal consequences. Having your personal information stolen can be stressful and challenging to resolve. While no one can completely prevent identity theft, there are steps you can take to minimize your risk. This article outlines practical tips to help safeguard your identity and protect yourself from fraud.

Monitor Your Accounts and Credit Reports

One of the best defenses is vigilance. Routinely check your financial accounts and watch for any suspicious charges or activity. Review account statements closely and report unauthorized transactions right away. Also, monitor your credit reports regularly for signs of fraud. You can obtain free annual credit reports from the major credit bureaus to check for errors or accounts opened without your consent.

Strengthen Passwords

Using strong, unique passwords is one of the simplest ways to secure your information. Avoid easy-to-guess passwords that include personal details or dictionary words. Instead, create long passwords with letters, numbers, and symbols. Consider using a password manager to generate and store secure passwords. Enable two-factor authentication when possible for an added layer of protection on accounts.

Be Wary of Scams

Criminals use clever schemes like phishing emails to trick victims into disclosing private data. Delete suspicious emails, and avoid clicking links or attachments from unknown senders. Hang up on questionable phone calls demanding immediate payment or personal information. When in doubt, directly contact the company or agency involved. Carefully scrutinize any communication requesting sensitive information to identify possible fraud.

Limit Personal Information Shared

Be selective about sharing personal details online or with companies. Only provide your Social Security number when necessary, and ask how your information will be safeguarded. Avoid posting sensitive details on social media. The less personal information available, the lower your risk. Check a company’s privacy policies before providing data.

Secure Online Transactions

When shopping online, look for the padlock icon in the URL bar and “https” in the web address. Only enter credit card details through secure, encrypted checkout systems. Be cautious when using public Wi-Fi networks for purchases, as they often lack stringent security. Consider using virtual credit card numbers or online payment services like PayPal.

Maintain Updated Software

Keep your software updated, including operating systems, apps, anti-virus programs, and firewalls—updates frequently patch security flaws that hackers can exploit. Turn on automatic updates for your devices when possible. Use reputable anti-virus software and scan regularly for malware. Outdated or vulnerable software creates opportunities for data theft.

Review Credit Card and Bank Statements

Carefully check all credit cards and bank statements monthly to catch fraudulent activity promptly. Immediately report any charges you don’t recognize. Call your credit card company if your card statement arrives late, which can signal identity theft issues. Review monthly statements to confirm only legitimate transactions have posted.

Check Your Minor Children’s Credit

Child identity theft unfortunately occurs, often going undetected for years. Periodically check your minor children’s credit through the three major credit bureaus for potential fraud. Monitoring their credit while young helps spot issues early and prevents problems. Place a credit freeze on your kids’ credit reports until they need to use credit.

Use a PO Box or Mail Service

Send sensitive mail like bank statements, tax documents, and credit cards to a post office box rather than your home mailbox. Criminals look for personal paperwork in unlocked mailboxes. A PO box helps protect your privacy. Alternatively, enroll in a mail scanning service that electronically delivers images of your mail securely online.

Shred Sensitive Documents

Invest in a quality shredder and habitually shred any paperwork containing personal information before disposal. This includes credit card offers, medical statements, receipts, and bills. Dumpster-diving criminals search trash for details like account numbers, birth dates, and signatures.

Limit the Use of Public Wi-Fi

Only use trusted secure networks and avoid banking, shopping, or entering sensitive data on public Wi-Fi hotspots. Encrypted VPN networks like Wi-Fi at home provide more protection. But public hotspots in coffee shops, hotels, and airports can be hacked. Limit activity to browsing on public networks.

Freeze Your Credit

Placing a credit freeze restricts access to your credit report, making it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. Freeze your credit by contacting each credit bureau. Lifting it temporarily when applying for credit takes planning, but it can be worth it.

Set Up Account Alerts

Please take advantage of the account alerts many financial institutions offer and monitor them regularly. Set up notifications for large withdrawals, low balances, changes of address, unusual activity, and more. Alerts can tip you off to fraudulent activity so you can report it ASAP.

Use Chip Readers

When using your debit or credit card, please insert it into chip readers whenever possible rather than swiping. Chip technology generates a unique transaction code that is much harder to replicate. Avoid signing up for purchases if you can enter a PIN instead. Signatures are more accessible to forge.

Change Up Passwords

While strong passwords are crucial, you should also periodically change your passwords to accounts containing sensitive information. This limits the damage if a password is somehow compromised. Don’t reuse old passwords either when changing them.

Be Careful with Documents

Properly destroy documents containing personally identifiable information rather than simply throwing them out. Use a cross-cut shredder on credit card receipts, insurance forms, physician statements, expired credit cards, convenience checks, and similar financial documents.

Watch Out for Missing Mail

Contact the post office if bills or financial statements don’t arrive on time, which can indicate a change of address request was fraudulently submitted. Also, let companies know when you expect mail that doesn’t appear. A missing statement could mean an identity thief has stolen your mail.

Review Your Medical Records

Thieves sometimes fraudulently use another person’s medical ID number to obtain healthcare services or file fake insurance claims. Periodically review your medical records and EOBs for any services you don’t recognize. Also, check that the demographic details on your file are accurate. Report any errors immediately.


Identity theft can happen to anyone, but following these practical tips can help minimize your risks. Pay close attention to account activity, safely manage passwords, avoid scams, limit personal data sharing, use secure sites for transactions, keep software updated, monitor statements, and check children’s credit. Taking preventative action makes it much harder for thieves to exploit your identity and provides peace of mind.