Identity Theft: What It Looks Like + 8 Ways to Protect Yourself

Unfortunately, identity theft is up 584% over the last 20 years, according to Consumer Affairs. With so much business and banking done online, bad actors have numerous opportunities to steal sensitive information such as social security numbers (SSNs), data from social media profiles, credit cards, and bank accounts.

1. Secure your mobile devices

Our most relied-upon devices can be one of our biggest risks. Guard your phone and tablet by:

  • Using a strong passcode and shorter auto-lock time.
  • Locking it when not in use.
  • Using a bank or credit card app instead of a mobile browser.
  • Skipping public USB ports to charge as hackers can use them to install malware.
  • Avoiding public WiFi (if you have to, don’t log in to sensitive accounts).

2. Protect your passwords

Make your passwords hack-proof by creating and saving them with a password manager. Do use two-step authentication whenever possible (with VIP access preferable to a phone when available). Do not:

  • Reuse passwords.
  • Save them to built-in keychains.
  • Rely on security questions alone, as this information is often easy to find.

3. Be careful what you store in your phone or email

If your phone gets stolen or your email is hacked, all other data you’ve stored and sent is vulnerable. Avoid sending and storing sensitive information in your phone or email (think SSN and photos of your passport or ID). If you must, opt for a robust password manager like Dashlane, which allows you to secure payment information and IDs in addition to passwords, all within one encrypted app.

4. Freeze your credit

If you are not in the process of applying for a loan, freeze your credit at Equifax, Experian, TransUnion, and ChexSystems (the latter protects bank accounts). This prohibits access to your records, so new credit accounts can’t be opened. You can freeze and unfreeze your credit for free whenever you want to open a new account.

5. Set up account alerts

When you set account alerts, you’ll know when your credit and debit cards are used, limits are surpassed, deposits are received, and more. This allows you to spot unusual activity right away.

6. Add PINs to cash apps

Add extra security to your cash transfer apps like Venmo, Cash App, and PayPal with a PIN. This ensures you are the only one that can access your account by requiring the 4-digit code to verify yourself for every transaction.

7. Monitor your credit reports, financials, and medical statements

Keep a close eye on your accounts regularly to catch signs of fraud quickly. Ensure that:

  • Your credit report is accurate, and watch for suspicious activity like accounts you don’t recognize.
  • You recognize every transaction on financial statements, including banks, credit cards, and investments.
  • You recognize the services on any medical bills, and the dates correspond appropriately.

8. Take precautions when writing a check

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network reported that banks filed 680,000 check fraud reports in 2022. Limit your check use. If you have to write them, be sure to:

  • Keep your checkbook in a secure place at all times.
  • Check your bank account daily.
  • Only write checks to people you know.
  • Fill the check out entirely so fraudsters can’t add something (and don’t write “cash” in the memo).
  • Give it directly to the recipient if you can, or drop it in the mailbox inside the post office, as even the standing blue box bins we all viewed as secure are now targets.

Opt for credit card payments or cash apps like Venmo whenever possible, as these are more secure and easier to dispute if issues arise.


Things can slip through the cracks even if we’re careful with the steps above. To take your cybersecurity a step further, consider identity theft protection. These services can’t prevent the theft and misuse of your data, but they can help restore your identity if stolen.

Identity theft protection platforms generally provide:

  • Monitoring: Services like Norton LifeLock and IdentityForce monitor your credit records.
  • Alerts: They will also notify you of activity, like new accounts opened in your name and inquiries.
  • Recovery: If you are a victim of identity theft, these companies can help you recover the stolen money and help repair your credit.

Many also offer additional services like social media and even dark web monitoring to spot identity threats on these trickier platforms.

The convenience of online shopping, banking, and password storage is tempting. While it’s all too easy to get complacent by using the same passwords and not being careful with things like our device security, doing a cybersecurity audit and implementing our suggestions will help to reduce risk.

If you have additional questions about preventing identity theft and securing your investment accounts, chat with a Carlson wealth advisor today.

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