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Protect Against Identity Theft

(Watch Your Back)

More than half of Americans (64%) report having their information stolen in a data breach and most don’t trust the government or social media sites to protect them, according to a Pew Research Center study. Still, an overwhelming majority (84%) of us don’t take simple precautions to keep our passwords safe. We rely on our own memory or writing passwords down on a piece of paper.

In the same study 54% of people report using potentially unsafe public Wi-Fi, with 1 in 5 of those people admitting that they do risky things like online banking and shopping on open networks.


It’s easy to get discouraged, but a few simple steps can keep your identity safer. Just like other criminals, identity thieves look for easy targets. Nothing is guaranteed, but a little protection could save you money, time and damage to your credit. This is especially important if you’re just building your financial life. If you plan to rent an apartment, buy a home or car, or apply for a new job in the near future, you want your credit to be as healthy as possible — and identity theft can cause unexpected setbacks.


  1. Don’t click the link! If you get a suspicious email from a company, organization or government entity — even if you have an account there — don’t click the link. Type the company name into your web browser and call the customer service line. And don’t give in to pressure. Thieves will try to make it seem like you must respond immediately, but this is often a ploy to get you to act without thinking.
  2. Get cozy with your credit report. You are entitled to a free credit report from each credit bureau (Experian, Equifax, TransUnion) once a year.

Get in the habit of requesting a report from a different bureau every 4 months at and watch for signs of identity theft. Monitor your bank, credit card and other online account activity regularly to catch anything suspicious before it causes damage.

  1. Guard your Social Security number. Your Social Security number is the key to your identity. Never carry your Social Security card with you unless it’s for a very specific purpose. Create an account at to explore your Social Security benefits, work and earnings history. This can be a helpful tool throughout your career for future retirement planning.

    If you’ve already been a victim of identity theft and placed a fraud alert or freeze on your credit report, you’ll have to open an account in person at a Social Security office or temporarily lift the freeze.
  2. Update your software and be careful online. Did you know that crooks can infect ads on legitimate websites with viruses? These ads are called “malvertising” and they hit hardest when you have outdated software and operating systems. Even emails that appear to be from a place where you have a real account can be faked. Rather than clicking an ad, type the URL into your browser. And keep up with updates because they contain fixes to known viruses.
  3. Watch your paper trail. It’s much more common to be hit with identity theft online these days, but you should still keep an eye on your mail. Shred any documents with personal information and opt out of prescreened credit and insurance offers.

Finally, if something feels “off,” trust your gut. Investigate anything that sounds too good to be true, and never send your personal information to anyone electronically before verifying why they need it. This also goes for people claiming to be with government agencies. The IRS won’t email or call you for your personal details and companies like Microsoft won’t approach you to sell you tech support you didn’t ask for. When in doubt, verify the request by calling customer service through the verified website before giving up your private details.

As always, we’ve got your back. — The On Your Own Team End of article insignia

[Any reference to a specific company, commercial product, process or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement or recommendation by On Your Own, the National Endowment for Financial Education or any of its affiliate programs.]