17.6 million residents in the US alone experienced identity theft in 2014, the most recent year reported by the National Crime Victimization Survey. That’s seven percent of the entire American adult population in a single year. In the UK, ID theft rose by 30 percent just last year. And the numbers are only expected to grow.
Here are some basic steps you can take to protect your identity this Data Privacy Day:
Take our Identity Theft Quiz
Think you can outsmart an identity thief? This ID theft quiz poses hypothetical situations to test your defenses against fraudsters. These include how to respond when someone asks you for information, warning signs to look for, and how to make sure no one is snooping on your activity. Take the test, learn how to avoid dangerous situations, and challenge your friends to beat your score.
Strengthen your passwords
If you’re still using the same password for every website and app, it’s time for an upgrade. Remembering different passwords for every website can be a pain, so we recommend using a password manager. This will let you store multiple passwords for different sites and apps and unlock all of them with a single master password. You can see how long it would take a hacker to crack your password using password strength test.
Check your credit report
Request your credit report from all of your country’s national credit bureaus at least once per year. In the US, you can request them for free once per year. Look them over for suspicious account activity and newly opened accounts. If you’ve recently been a victim of identity theft, place a fraud alert on your account to make it more difficult for thieves to open new accounts in your name. While you’re at it, check your medical and bank records as well.
Use a VPN
A VPN, or virtual private network, encrypts all of a device’s internet traffic and routes it through and intermediary server in a location of your choosing. Among other benefits, VPNs prevent snoopers from deciphering any internet activity they intercept from you. This is especially important if you use unsecured wifi hotspots. Furthermore, a VPN will mask your IP address from the rest of the world, making it more difficult to identify you through your IP address. We have reviews the best VPN services if you need help choosing.
Shred documents with personal information
Many identity thieves don’t bother with hacking or phishing attempts to defraud their victims. They simply dig through the trash to find documents and other materials containing private information. Always shred documents containing personal details, and put documents you wish to keep in a safe and secure location. If you don’t have a paper shredder, use a black marker to redact information. Better yet, use both!
Got more tips? Let us know in the comments!