Proteing your identity

How to Protect Your Identity

When even big corporations like Target are losing your personal information, you need to take identity theft seriously. Keep your data secure with these tips.

Incidents of identity theft are on the rise. Just this year alone, the personal records of more than 13 million people were stolen by hackers, according to TIME Magazine.

Even if you haven’t shopped at Target, Michaels or Neiman Marcus in the last year, chances are you have used a credit card at one of the 43% of American companies that have had security breaches.

The time to learn about identity theft protection, then, is now — not when you receive a $5,000 credit card statement concerning a shopping spree you allegedly had in Bangkok.

Ready to learn how to protect your identity? Here are just some of the ways you can be proactive about making sure you’re not a victim of fraud.

Review your credit card and bank statements.

According to U.S. News, regularly checking your credit card statements will protect you against smaller fraudulent purchases, but it isn’t foolproof. Professional fraudsters will "open brand new accounts and have the statements mailed elsewhere."

Order your credit report.

This is your next line of defense. Forbes notes that your credit report "allows you to see whether someone has opened new accounts under your name." It's your right as a consumer, under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) to request a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three reporting institutions.

Don’t carry your social security card with you.

Unless you’ve started a new job, or need to apply for a passport or other legal document, there’s no good reason to carry your social security card around in your purse or wallet. Even the Social Security Administration itself cautions Americans against "routinely carrying your social security card around with you."

Be wary of suspicious calls, texts, or emails.

Identity thieves are a resourceful bunch. Instead of hunting down your personal information, many will attempt to trick you into providing it. Business Insider advises against giving out your personal information via email. Your bank already has it, so "if someone does request it, you’re probably dealing with a fraudster."

Invest in a document shredder.

When phishing fails, identity thieves get trashy, literally. Some thieves will take to hunting through your garbage to find important documents containing your personal information. Don’t make it easy for them to piece your data together. The New York Times suggests shredding "all documents that have any bank, Social Security, credit card or insurance identification numbers."

Freeze your credit.

Consider this the nuclear option. If you're concerned that someone might have already stolen your identity, or want to nip identity theft in the bud altogether, you can tell the three major credit reporting firms – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion to freeze your credit.

The Chicago Tribune asserts that freezing your credit means "creditors can't check your credit unless you specifically allow them to." Since credit card companies need to run a check before they'll approve a new credit card, identity thieves won't be able to open accounts in your name. Choosing this option, however, will cost you up to $30, with additional charges to "unfreeze" your credit.