4 tips to protect against identity theft

Safeguard your sensitive information and financial accounts by taking these steps.

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Key takeaways

  • Be wary of emails, phone calls, or texts that ask you to supply information like a password or personal information.
  • Be aware of the fact that your phone can be hacked.
  • Take steps to secure financial accounts with the highest level of security offered—and then monitor them for any unauthorized activity.
  • Keep computers and mobile devices updated and secured with strong passwords.

Identity theft can be scary but there is good news. You can protect yourself, in most cases, by being aware of the threat and following certain practices for safeguarding your information.

1. Don't take the phishing bait

Phishing is a technique used by criminals to trick victims into providing personal information that can be used for identity theft. Most phishing attempts are carried out by email, text messages, or phone.

  • Ignore deals, freebies, and awards that sound too good to be true. Disregard offers that appear to come from unusual foreign contacts, as well as requests from strangers for help.
  • Ignore phone calls, emails, or texts that appear to be from the IRS. The agency will not contact you by phone, email, text message, or social media to request personal or financial information.
  • Be suspicious of anyone requesting your Social Security number, date of birth, financial account number, PIN, email, or passwords—especially if there is a request to verify your information when you were not expecting it.
  • Never click a link or download an attachment inside an unexpected email. If the email claims to be from a company you do business with, don't log in from a link in the email message—go to the company's website and log in to your account from there.
  • Never provide personal information over the phone to an unsolicited caller. If you think the call might be a legitimate request from a company you do business with, hang up, and call the company directly.

2. Protect your phone service

Your phone has become an important part of security protocol and is the "master key" to accessing online accounts and information.

Criminals and scam artists are actively using stolen identity information to port your mobile phone number, or forward your phone calls and text messages. They do this by calling phone service providers. If you use Voice over IP (VoIP) phones then your voice phone portal accounts are also at risk.

Cyber criminals do this to steal your 2-factor authentication codes and text messages to get into your financial institution accounts.

  • Learn signs that your phone may be hacked. If you notice your mobile phone showing "no service" or "emergency calls only," or you stop receiving phone calls and text messages even after you restart your phone, contact your mobile company to see if your account has been compromised.
  • Ask your telecom provider about ways to better secure your account, especially verifying your identity with a PIN or 2-factor authentication to make changes, route phone calls, forward phone messages, or port your phone number.
  • Secure your online phone and internet service provider account where you pay bills and manage settings. Use a separate and strong password for such accounts and enable 2-factor authentication on these accounts.

3. Monitor and secure your accounts

Many companies, including Fidelity, go to great lengths to safeguard customers' information and provide security tools. For instance, Fidelity offers 2-factor authentication, designed to prevent someone from accessing your account, even if they have your password.

Here are a few actions you can take to reinforce those safeguards.

  • Choose passwords that can't be guessed easily. Use different passwords for different websites, and change them regularly.
  • Sign up for 2-factor authentication at your financial institutions and email service providers to protect all your online accounts.
  • Make sure your financial institutions have up-to-date contact information for you, especially your mobile number. Your financial institutions use this information to protect your accounts and to contact you when suspicious activity is detected.
  • Sign up for automated alerts of suspicious account activity wherever offered. Fidelity automatically alerts you by email and text messages of certain suspicious activity. Do not ignore these security alerts when they are received.
  • Check your credit report regularly. The 3 major agencies—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—are required by law to provide you with a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months, which means you can check your report for free 3 times throughout the year.

4. Secure your mobile devices and personal computers

Any device you use that is connected to the internet can become a mechanism of attack by cyber-criminals. Hackers can get in through newly discovered security holes in these devices and systems.

  • Change any default passwords when setting up your devices.
  • Apply updates and patches as soon as the system maker releases them.
  • Don't download mobile apps and games that you do not trust. Some mobile apps have been found to contain hidden malicious software. Use your best judgment before using a brand new app from an unknown company and read reviews before downloading.
  • Run antivirus software on your computers, and ensure that your mobile devices have the most recent security updates and patches.

Take security seriously

Protecting your information and online accounts can help avoid the hassle and heartache of ID theft. Take advantage of all security measures offered and use strong passwords—remember the best way to prevent identity theft is with a strong defense.

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