How to Prevent Identity Theft: 12 Steps in Identity Theft Protection

Identity theft is a massive problem for people of all walks of life. In fact, a staggering 40 million Americans experienced identity theft in 2022. Identity theft damages your credit and costs you and your family time and money trying to repair the damages. In this article, we’ll show you 12 ways to protect yourself from identity theft of all kinds, what to do if your identity is stolen, and how to report identity theft.

What is identity theft?

Identity theft is when a criminal steals your personal data – like your name, driver’s license number, address, or Social Security number – and uses it for their financial gain to your detriment. With the right information, a thief could apply for loans, open new accounts, make credit card purchases, and even get healthcare services, all in your name. Identity theft can devastate the victim. They are often stuck with debt and credit damage that takes years to repair.

Unfortunately, even if an individual is careful with their information, big companies often suffer data breaches. These result in the loss of thousands of customers’ information logs. Many criminals get access to identifying information this way. However, even if you were part of a wide-scale data breach, it doesn’t mean identity theft is inevitable, especially with the right precautions.

12 ways to protect yourself from identity theft

There’s no surefire way to prevent identity theft, but identity theft protection measures go a long way in keeping you and your information safe. Using as many of the following identity theft protection methods as possible will help you avoid having your identity stolen.

  • Freeze your credit. If you aren’t planning on big purchases anytime soon, freeze your credit with the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and Transunion). It restricts access, stopping anyone from opening new credit lines. When you need to use your credit again, you can unfreeze it.
  • Monitor your credit with an identity theft protection service. Services like Norton’s LifeLock offer even more protection for your accounts. These kinds of services are worth investing in, as they monitor the Internet, as well as the dark web, for your information and provide alerts if anything seems amiss.
  • Use strong passwords on your accounts. Use the Password Generator Tool to create strong passwords for your accounts, as these are the first line of defense against threats.
  • Enable account alerts and two-factor authentication. Enabling login alerts and two-factor authentication, especially on important accounts, alerts you if someone else tries to log onto your accounts.
  • Avoid phishing attacks. Phishing attacks target individuals through email, phone, or text messages to try and get their sensitive information. Falling victim to a phishing attack could lead to identity theft.
  • Use a good antivirus software program. Antivirus software is a good defense measure in general. But it also protects against keyloggers, Trojan horses, and other viruses that try to steal your information.
  • Avoid public WiFi networks. Though public WiFi networks are convenient, they aren’t secured. This means a criminal could potentially steal your information when you’re both accessing the same free network.
  • Guard your Social Security number. Your Social Security number is one of the most important and sensitive pieces of information you have. Safeguard it by keeping the card in a safe place and not carrying it on your person. In addition, only give it out when necessary to secure organizations.
  • Shred sensitive documents when they’re no longer needed. Don’t throw away sensitive documents like bank statements. Anything containing personal information should be shredded before you throw it away as an added security measure.
  • Use a password manager. Password managers help you keep your passwords secure and organized, which, in turn, improves your account security.
  • Review your credit card and bank statements. Check over your statements when you receive them to make sure there are no strange charges or unusual activity.
  • Check your mail, voicemail, and email for out-of-the-ordinary messages. If someone tries to open a mortgage or bank account in your name, you may receive a call or message because the person uses your identity. Take these seriously, as they are red flags.

If you take action to protect yourself against identity theft, you have a much lower chance of becoming a victim, even if your information is compromised.

Types of identity theft      

For better or worse, the digital nature of our lives makes us vulnerable to more than one type of identity theft scam. Below are seven of the most common types of identity theft to watch out for.

Social Security identity theft

Your Social Security number (SSN) is part of your identity, and its confidentiality is crucial. Should someone get your SSN, they can use it to get more of your information, try to open a credit line or bank account in your name, or file a tax return.

Don’t keep your Social Security card with you; keep it in a secure location. Additionally, ensure that you only give your number to secure companies or sites when you must provide it. Some documents do require your SSN, but only provide your number when necessary.

Taxpayer identity theft

When someone uses your SSN to file a tax return under your name, it’s taxpayer identity theft. These types of scams have become more common in recent years. Users may not discover the issue until they go to file their own tax returns and discover that the returns were already filed. If you are a victim of taxpayer identity theft, contact the Internal Revenue Service with an Identity Theft Affidavit.

Medical identity theft

Medical theft identity occurs when your identity is used to get healthcare services. It could be a hospital visit, medicine at the drugstore, or anything related to healthcare. These scams are both physically and financially harmful. The victim ends up with the criminal’s medical bills to pay. Furthermore, medical theft identity can result in mixed medical histories or inaccurate medical information. This is a risk to the health of the victim in future medical care.

Make sure to review your medical claims and insurance notes when you get them. If anything looks suspicious, reach out to your insurer so that they can correct the issue.

Online shopping identity theft

When criminals gain access to your online accounts, like Amazon or Target, they can use your saved card information to make unapproved purchases. Once criminals gain your login information via phishing tactics or other methods, they can also change your account information so you can no longer log in to your own account.

To avoid account theft, stay on secured WiFi networks. Furthermore, don’t shop on suspicious sites, as they may be fronts. Make sure all sites you visit are HTTPS sites rather than HTTP. Furthermore, as an additional precaution, don’t save your cards in your accounts for future purchases. Though it seems like a bother, entering your card number in for each purchase you make is the safer route.

Credit card identity theft

When someone gets ahold of your credit card information, whether it be by stealing the physical card or by gaining access to your account information online, this is credit card identity theft. The thief can then use it to make purchases which you could be responsible for paying.

The good news is that many credit card services offer fraud protection now, which can detect potentially fraudulent purchases immediately and alert you to prevent further damage. If you lose your credit card or believe it’s compromised, call your company to freeze your card or change your account.

Mortgage identity theft

Using your Social Security number or bank information, thieves may be able to open a home equity line of credit or second mortgage in your name. Then, they can take that money and leave you to face the financial consequences. Home title fraud is a similar and related issue; if a thief has enough of your information, they can impersonate you as the homeowner and transfer your home’s title to their own name.

Account takeover identity theft

Impersonating another person through their online accounts is identity theft, no matter how important the account is. Online banking accounts are the most devastating if compromised by identity theft. However, social media accounts, email accounts, and credit card accounts are also incredibly vulnerable if taken over. Use two-factor authentication on your accounts to make it difficult for others to gain access.

How to report identity theft

If your identity theft protection doesn't work and you feel you are the victim of identity theft, file a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). This will launch an investigation.

Additionally, in order to restore your name, some creditors, banks, or debt collection agencies might require you to also file a police report. File reports with the involved authoritative parties as well. For medical theft, contact your insurance company; for taxpayer theft, contact the IRS, and so on.

To file a report with the FTC, visit and complete the identity theft report. You can also file by calling the FTC at 1-877-FTC-HELP.

To file a police report, provide your FTC identity theft report, your photo ID, address, and any proof you have of the theft.

There’s no surefire way to prevent identity theft. But following the tips above can help keep you and your information secure. If you do find your identity stolen, report it as soon as possible to move forward in repairing the damages.