Taking Control: Preventing Identity Theft vs Reducing Your Risk

The Identity Theft Resource Center has been tracking data breaches and identity theft crimes since 2005, and serves as a resource to the public, law enforcement, and policymakers alike. Over these fifteen-plus years, it’s sad to think that consumers are still being victimized, even as awareness has grown and the laws surrounding this crime offer better protection.

One of the chief misconceptions about identity theft, though, is that there’s nothing you can do to prevent it. The other big misconception? That you can prevent it!

That sounds like a somewhat twisted paradox, but it’s true. There are many things you can do to prevent someone from stealing your identity, but at the same time, the broad nature of this crime means you also might be completely helpless to avoid it.

First, let’s talk prevention. You can absolutely take a number of steps and develop some good habits that will keep your identifying information safe. Shredding all documents and junk mail offers before discarding is one of the oldest methods of securing your data, while making sure to practice good cybersecurity measures falls under some of the newer technology-based methods. Filing your tax return as early as possible can help you avoid government identity theft, while avoiding “oversharing” on social media is definitely within your control. Of course, staying on top of the latest scam and fraud attempts by following news of identity theft trends is a great way to avoid falling into a thief’s trap.

But what are some of the things that are out of your control? Shopping, for one; you don’t have any control over whether or not a retailer has strong security protocols in place when you swipe your card. You don’t control the billing clerk at your doctor’s office or the employee at the DMV either, meaning she might steal your identity and then sell or use it. Your credit card company could be hacked, as could your email provider or your social media accounts. Short of living off the grid in some remote wilderness and avoiding all contact with the technologically-connected world, there’s not much you can do to keep your information from being accessible by someone out there who is determined to get it.

So is all hope lost? Of course not! The best course of action is to develop the good habits that prevent identity theft, while living day-to-day as though your identifying information has already been stolen in a way that you couldn’t have prevented. You can minimize your risk of harm by monitoring your account statements diligently, limiting where and when you share your permanent identifying data, watching your credit report routinely for strange activity, and taking action the moment you notice something isn’t right.

Questions about identity theft? Contact the ITRC toll-free at (888) 400-5530 or on-the-go with the new IDTheftHelp app for iOS and Android.

Read next: Uber’s New Policy Affects Customer Privacy

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