How to set up ID theft protection

Key Takeaway
Identity theft can happen to anyone. Taking the extra steps today to protect yourself will save you both time and money should your identity be compromised. Learn how to prevent and handle losing your wallet, mail theft, data breaches, and more with a proper ID theft protection service and practical daily lifestyle changes.

Identity theft is something that every single person has to consider and protect against. As digital intrusion attempts become more sophisticated and hackers gain even better tools to use to steal information and money, it's more important than ever to know how to set up ID theft protection and how to take critical steps in an ID theft protection plan.

But if you’ve been lucky enough never to have your personal information compromised, you might not know where to start. Today, let’s break down how to set up ID theft protection in detail, plus go over several solid strategies you can leverage to minimize your chances of experiencing identity theft in the first place.

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft looks different each time it happens to someone. It is not always the same. It's not simply a matter of losing your driver's license or having your Social Security number stolen, although these are common forms of identity theft. Identity theft includes any circumstance in which your personal information is taken without your permission. Oftentimes, that personal information is then used for criminal financial activities, such as theft, making purchases under your name, etc.

Identity theft can happen when the following types of information or documents are stolen:

  • Your Social Security number
  • Your driver’s license or driver’s license number
  • Any other identification or ID number
  • Your credit card information
  • Numbers to your financial accounts and other information
  • Any other personal information like your date of birth, security question answers, and more

For example, you might experience identity theft if you lose access to your social security number and banking password. If someone gets access to that information, they could easily get into the victim’s bank account and steal money or use the bank account funds for illegitimate purposes.

Identity theft can be incredibly difficult to overcome. Not only will you lose access to vital funds or some of your money, but you’ll also have to prove your identity, close accounts, change credit cards, and undertake numerous other steps just to repair the damage incurred by a single attack.

How Can Identity Theft Occur?

With so much personal information spread throughout the Internet in the modern age, there are many different ways in which identity theft can occur to anybody. Here are a few examples.

Loss of your wallet

Naturally, if you lose your wallet with your driver's license, Social Security card, credit card, or other key information, a would-be identity thief could access much of your information. To avoid this, it's a good idea not to keep your Social Security card and any other unnecessary information in your wallet.

Mailbox theft

An identity thief might look around at different mailboxes or watch mail delivery patterns, then steal mail from mailboxes. Some identity thieves may even break into apartment mailboxes and steal all the mail they can. Regardless, stolen mail can compromise your personal information, as tax documents, bank and credit card statements, and other key papers with information might be present.

Data breaches

A data breach is not something that is palatable. And it can occur personally or to organizations that have your information. For example, Equifax had a massive data breach in 2017. This affected many millions of American consumers, as this big credit bureau had credit and personal information on millions of people

SIM card swaps

You might get calls and texts if someone takes over your phone number. However, the identity thief will receive that information instead. You can try to prevent this by setting up a password or PIN for your cellular account for using an authentication app whenever you access an account with very sensitive financial information

Skimming of credit cards

Skimming happens when a small device reads a credit card swiped at a brick-and-mortar card payment station, like an ATM. For this reason, try to use a credit or debit card with a chip, which has extra protections against skimming

Phone scams 

Identity thieves may try to make phone calls to vulnerable individuals, masquerading as officials or government agents who need access to their personal information. You should never give personal information over the phone unless you initiate the call and you know with 100% certainty that the other person speaking is trustworthy.


Malware, which can get onto your computer through compromised websites, computer viruses, and so on. If your computer has personal information, and it likely does, even a single malware virus could be used to give personal information to a hacker or identity thief.

What Do Thieves Do with Stolen Information?

Once an identity thief can access your personal information, they can use it for various criminal purposes. 

As a few examples that you can relate to. An identity thief might:

  • Try opening a new credit card account or bank account in your name. Once opened, the thief can then use the same personal information they used to open up a new account to make purchases, take out loans, and much more
  • Create counterfeit debit cards or checks. Not only is this bad for your finances and credit report, but it could see you being accused of criminal activity when you did nothing wrong
  • Try to file for bankruptcy in your name
  • Try to steal money directly from your bank account
  • Make purchases using your credit card or bank account information, in which case you’ll have to refund those purchases by contacting the original vendors
  • Set up phone or utility services in your name

In truth, an identity thief can use your personal information for many illegitimate purposes. Therefore, it’s always a better idea to prevent an identity thief from getting your information in the first place.

Is it Worth Getting Identity Theft Protection?

Simply put, yes. True. Certain. You might think you are protected against identity theft, especially if you use strong passwords, rarely post personal information online, and follow other common sense tips. But the truth is identity theft can happen to anybody. You can be vulnerable to it just by signing up for a common service or company, like a bank. All this makes it incredibly clear that identity theft protection is valuable for everyone

The more you use the Internet, the more likely you are to ID theft. But there is nothing to worry about. The next section will guide you on how to get theft protection.

How Can I Get Free Identity Theft Protection?

Given the importance of identity theft protection, you might wonder whether you need to spend money on it. A paid identity theft protection service could be the most comprehensive defensive strategy you can employ. And that is the truth. That said, acquiring free identity theft protection is also possible by undertaking several critical steps. Employing good digital hygiene, such as not posting personal information online, is a free thing you can do to minimize your risk of identity theft and other digital attacks.

How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

This section is so important whether you have been a victim of ID theft or not. Just continue reading. Starting today, you can employ several strategies to minimize the likelihood of your personal information being stolen and maximize your ability to protect your identity and confidential documents from theft.

Freeze Your Credit

First and foremost, become familiar with freezing your credit. This is the right step in the right direction.

Your credit score is compiled and shared between the three major credit bureaus, named Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. 

Each credit bureau tracks your credit activities, like bills paid, accounts opened, etc. Over time, the credit bureaus compile credit scores that you can use to take out loans, lines of credit, and more.

If you think your identity is compromised – for example, you notice an illegitimate charge on your banking statement – then it’s a good idea to contact the three credit bureaus and ask them to freeze your credit. 

When you freeze your credit, the credit bureaus will restrict access to your credit records so fresh credit files can’t be opened. 

In essence, it prevents your credit scores from being altered or modified.

You can then unfreeze your credit whenever you want to open a new credit account or take out a new loan. 

This is a good policy in general, as it stops bad actors, lazy credit furnishers, and other organizations from compromising your credit score by accident or intentionally.

You need to know that each credit bureau has a different site.

Get Rid of Vulnerable Paperwork

Next, you’ll want to get rid of any vulnerable paperwork you may have at your home, at your office, at school, or elsewhere. 

Vulnerable paperwork includes but is not limited to:

  • Old bank statements
  • The old credit card offers
  • Old notices or mail from a bank, credit union, lender, or other financial organization

In short, any paperwork you no longer need for financial purposes should be shredded and disposed of immediately. For example, if you are in the office and receive a letter from your bank or credit union, you might throw it in the trash. A janitor or someone else could then find the notice in the trash and clean important information about your bank account, like your account number or mailing address. That is how many people expose themselves to ID theft. By removing vulnerable paperwork, you remove a potential vector that identity thieves could use to take possession of your personal information. 

This is another good reason to opt for paperless billing. Your bank or credit union will then email you your statements instead of creating physical copies of those same statements. In this way, you can do your part for the environment and your personal safety!

Educate Yourself on Phishing and Scams

Part of educating yourself is reading this comprehensive guide by Homebody. And you are doing quite well.

So-called phishing scams are digital scams that involve suspicious or fraudulent emails. 

In a nutshell, a phishing scam occurs when a victim inadvertently opens a suspicious-looking email. 

By opening the email or by responding to it, a virus can be implanted in the victim's computer. 

At that point, the virus can steal information, like the computer down as part of a ransomware attack, or do something else entirely.

You should educate yourself and your family on phishing scams and their common signs. 

For example, some of the most common signs of phishing scams include:

  • Emails sent from email addresses with misspellings or strange names
  • Emails sent by people you don’t recognize but who call you familiar terms
  • Emails asking for your personal information outright

You should ignore and delete emails from addresses that you don't recognize. If you do not need it, delete it.

Don't open emails that have strange headers or that come from odd-looking addresses. 

By doing this, you'll protect your computer and prevent a potential virus from getting root in your digital systems.

If you are a business owner, educating your employees on phishing scams is also a good idea. 

And you can suggest they read this comprehensive guide by Homebody.

That way, your entire organization and its critical data will be protected (not to mention the personal information of your customers and clients).

Use Good Passwords

Most people know what it takes to create a strong password, yet many continue using weak passwords for their vulnerable accounts or the same password for multiple accounts. 

And you don't want your identity compromised over a simple password.

You should never use a weak password that can easily be figured out, either by an identity thief guessing something about your identity or by brute-force viral attacks.

A strong password includes:

  • Upper and lowercase letters
  • Numbers
  • Symbols

Furthermore, a strong password is only used once or for one account. 

Do not, for example, use the exact same account for your bank account, your credit union account, and your business account. 

This is never a good idea for one big reason: if an identity thief does learn one of your passwords, they could get into many accounts using that same password.

While it’s true that setting up strong passwords for each of your accounts can be time-consuming and tough to remember, there are tools to assist with this. 

For example, you can download a free password manager or use a password manager as part of an antivirus software package.

Password managers store all of your passwords securely and allow you to quickly and easily plug them into the required fields when you need them. 

That way, you don't have to remember each of your passwords.

That is a smart move, right? Yep.

You can also write down your passwords and keep that slip of paper in a very secure location, like a safe with a key or another passcode. 

As easy as this sounds, Homebody will strongly advise you to keep your password safe.

The more layers of security you add to your online accounts, the safer you'll be against identity theft.

Set Up ID Theft Alerts

Now, it is getting so interesting. Pay more attention here.

ID theft alerts are digital alerts usually included with antivirus software and identity theft protection services (see more below). 

In addition, many banks, credit unions, and other financial services include ID theft alert settings.

Make use of this!

In any case, ID theft alerts tell you when there is a suspicious or potentially fraudulent activity within any of your accounts. 

For instance, your bank might send you an ID theft alert if it detects a strange transaction from China while you are in the United States.

ID theft alerts allow you to quickly lock down your accounts, cancel credit cards, or tell your bank not to approve transactions from a suspicious country. 

These don't protect you from identity theft initially, but they can help you stop the damage from spreading too far.

Therefore, it’s always a good idea to sign up for identity theft alerts whenever they are offered. Even if you don’t think you’ll ever use such alerts, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Protect Mobile Devices

Your mobile devices have a lot of information that could make your various accounts and personal information quite vulnerable. 

Imagine losing access to your smartphone, for instance.

If an identity thief can break into the smartphone using software or by guessing your password, they will then get access to your:

  • Photos
  • Emails
  • Texts
  • Phone numbers
  • Any other personal information you might have on the phone

And these are things you do not want to lose. The best bet is to get an ID protection service.

Even worse, you might have a mobile banking app on your phone. If the mobile banking app signs and automatically, a criminal who takes your smartphone can now access your banking profile.

In other words, your smartphone is a potential vulnerability for your identity theft protection strategy. 

With that in mind, protect your mobile devices and never let them out of your site.

You might consider setting up fingerprint or face ID scan protections on your smartphones, which add additional layers of security and make it harder for criminals to break into your phone even if they steal it.

Don't forget to install antivirus software on your mobile device as well. 

Many people install antivirus software on desktops and laptops without thinking of smartphones. 

But in truth, smartphones are vulnerable vectors against all types of digital attacks, including malware attacks, ransomware attacks, and phishing scams.

If you are following, you can share this article with someone you know who needs it. They will thank you for it.

If you go on the Internet regularly and download videos, photos, and other files, you should only do so with an antivirus installed. 

A good antivirus app will protect you from ID theft and other possible digital attacks.

Check Your Credit Reports and Other Statements

You should regularly check credit reports, bank statements, and any other statements you receive.

As an American consumer, you are entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three credit bureaus described earlier. 

Ensure to read through your credit report and check for any suspicious activity or strange charges.

For instance, if you look through your Experian credit report and find a record of opening a new credit card a few months ago, you can dispute that opening. 

You can explain to Experian that you never opened such a credit account. Not only will this prevent that credit account from being used by an identity thief, but it will likely also positively affect your credit score.

Your credit reports and other statements can provide valuable signs that your identity is at risk. 

Pay attention to them, and don’t go over a few months without checking your various accounts and records for signs of theft or compromised information.

Are These Steps Good Enough?

Unfortunately, there is no way to protect yourself from identity theft with 100% certainty. Your identity and personal information can be stolen even if you employ all the tips described above.

This is not to instill fear.

For example, you probably provided your personal information to an online banking service at one point or another. 

If that banking service were to experience a digital breach, like a virus attack, all the information about that bank's customers could be stolen or left in the open for anyone to see.

This is why the digital breaches and attacks of major organizations like Chase, Visa, and more make the news. 

When a bank loses a battle against a digital threat, like a virus creator, it endangers not just itself but also all the people who use the banking service.

If you have ever provided your personal information to anyone, there’s a good chance that your information could be stolen at some point in the future. 

Even though 100% protection against identity theft is impossible, you should still take key steps to minimize the likelihood of identity theft and to alert yourself if your information is compromised. 

Rest. There is another way around this. That’s where identity theft protection services come in.

What is an Identity Theft Protection Service?

An identity theft protection service is a detailed alert and legal assistance from antivirus and other companies. 

In a nutshell, an identity theft protection service will help limit damage from identity theft and assist with recovery.

Strictly speaking, identity theft protection services don’t stop identity theft overall. For example, there’s nothing even the best identity theft protection service can do if you willingly put your personal information online via a public forum.

However, identity theft protection services can help you recover more quickly and will provide you with sound advice to minimize your exposure to identity theft during your online activities. 

Identity theft protection services are often available as extra packages or subsidiary services through antivirus companies.

For instance, you may have antivirus from Norton or McAfee. Once you get antivirus from one of those companies, you can purchase an extra monthly or yearly service for identity theft protection.

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

The Benefits of an Identity Theft Protection Service

There are many benefits to enjoy from ID theft protection services.

Some of these benefits you will enjoy include the following;

  • Faster recovery time after identity theft. With an identity theft protection service, you can get in touch with the authorities much more quickly and, in some cases, get backup copies of important data or information so you can continue business as usual
  • Very fast, accurate alerts and monitoring of your profiles, accounts, and information online. Many of the best identity theft protection services will monitor the Internet for any mention of your personal information. Then, for example, if your information shows up on the black market or elsewhere online, the identity theft protection service will alert you immediately (and alert the authorities if you allow them).
  • Identity recovery services. Most identity protection services will also help you recover your identity and personal information if you are victimized. For example, they will help you secure your accounts, contact government agencies, request a credit freeze from relevant credit bureaus, and much more. You can even sometimes get help writing letters to creditors and debt collectors if necessary. In any case, it’s good to have experts on hand if you need them.
  • Insurance payouts if you lose money because of ID fraud. Indeed, lots of the best ID theft protection plans and services provide insurance packages as well. So if you lose money in your bank account because of identity theft, for example, you could be reimbursed up to whatever the insurance limit is.
  • Fast credit freezing. hanks to their connections with the credit bureaus, identity theft protection services often allow you to lock your credit reports at one bureau or another with a touch of a button. It’s much faster and more convenient than calling up each bureau individually
  • Peace of mind. There is nothing you can compare to peace of mind. With an identity theft protection service working around the clock, you don't have to worry about being taken off-guard by identity theft. You'll be given plenty of warning that your information has been compromised and be able to use that time to shore up your account, cancel credit cards, or do whatever else you need to

Overall, consider an identity theft protection service another component of an overall ID theft protection plan. It can’t replace common sense and being smart with online activities but can supplement your other defenses.

Should You Always Use an Identity Theft Protection Service?

In most cases, it's a no-brainer to use an identity theft protection company. Identity theft protection companies are usually the same or related to antivirus companies, so if you are going to pay for one type of protection, it makes sense to pay for the other type as well.

More than that, even the most prepared individuals can still become victims of identity theft. 

If that occurs, having a professional agency to help you through the process can be invaluable for your peace of mind and to ensure you don’t forget anything critical.

You can read other comprehensive articles from Homebody like this here

Where Do I Start with Identity Theft?

Because identity theft is such a potentially disastrous occurrence, it’s important to know what to do and where to start if you’ve been the victim of identity theft.

What is an ID Theft Plan?

Before your identity is compromised, you should devise an ID theft plan. An ID theft plan is essentially a series of steps you will take if you believe your identity or personal info has been compromised.

This can be a basic checklist you have on paper or something you follow online, like this guide. Regardless, have an ID theft plan accessible and available to everyone in your family. That way, if you are ever unable to start the process of recovering your identity, someone else in your family can do it, or they can use the same information as their identities are compromised.

How to Report Identity Theft

If the worst comes to pass and you believe that you are a victim of identity theft, you should report it right away. Reporting identity theft to the authorities is a vital step in the recovery process, and it can help stop identity theft from proceeding beyond its initial stages. You can report identity theft in a few big ways:

  • For starters, you can visit The Federal Trade Commission runs this, including detailed steps to follow a recovery plan. You can also file an FTC identity theft report. This is normally a required step for identity theft insurance.
  • You should also contact your police department. It may help to do this if you believe that your identity theft occurred because of a physical crime, like the loss of your wallet or the theft of your mail.
  • Contact the Postal Service and the credit bureaus. If your identity has been compromised, these organizations need to know about it so they can freeze your accounts, and they do not take future activity as indicative of your actual behavior.
  • Call the IRS’s phone line for identity theft at 800-908-4490. This phone line will allow you to alert the IRS to your identity theft. Again, this can prevent you from getting in trouble with the law if the identity thief uses your personal information for illegitimate goals or activities. The IRS also has a taxpayer guide you can use to better educate yourself about identity theft.
  • Don’t forget to report your identity theft to your credit card issuers. If a credit card has been lost, stolen, or used without your knowledge, you will need to cancel the credit card ASAP. Canceling your credit card should only take a few minutes with modern banking systems. Your bank can also help you in ordering a new credit card, which should be delivered to your home address within several business days

No matter who you contact about identity theft, be as specific as possible. This will help the authorities or organizations responsible for remedying identity theft stop the identity thief as quickly as they can.

Bottom line

In the end, identity theft protection can happen to anyone. But if you keep the steps in mind above, and if you rely on the expertise of a quality identity theft protection service, you’ll be much less likely to have your information compromised. Consider using one of the above identity theft protection services today.

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