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How to Avoid Identity Theft Online

by Ryan Guina

Identity Theft is one of the worst things that can happen to your personal finances. When someone assumes your identity they can ruin your credit score and destroy your financial reputation for years. Identity theft is a growing crime, but there are some important measures you can take to avoid having your identity stolen.

How to Avoid Identity Theft Online

how to avoid identity theft

Shredding statements is always a good idea

The Federal Trade Commission maintains an Identity Theft Awareness website that outlines three important steps for avoiding identity theft: Deter Identity Theft, Detect Identity Theft, and Defend Against Identity Theft. Using these three steps can save you from an expensive and damaging experience.

Deter Identity Theft

The first step and most effective way to prevent identity theft is to deter identity thieves. Don’t give thieves a way to get your personal or financial information. This includes being vigilant with any personal and financial data. These tips will help:

Detect Identity Theft

The next step is to detect identity theft if it has occurred. The more quickly you discover identity theft, the easier it is to limit the damage  to your credit and the easier it is to get the situation resolved.

Monitor your credit report and look for errors. Everyone is eligible for 1 free credit report per year from each of the three major credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You can order these free credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com. The most effective way to monitor your credit is to stagger your free credit reports and get a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus every 4 months.

Here are several ways you can detect identity theft:

  • Use an identity theft protection company to monitor your credit reports, scores, and financial accounts. (See trial offers below).
  • Use a credit monitoring service to monitor your credit reports.
  • Receiving unexpected bills for items you did not purchase.
  • Calls or letters from bill collectors or creditors for items you did not purchase.
  • No longer receiving expected bills.
  • Denials of credit when you should be qualified.

You should make it a habit to review your financial statements on a monthly basis and get into the habit of getting your free credit reports.

Identity theft monitoring offers:

The following commercial identity theft monitoring companies offer free trials and discounts:

These offers may help you prevent, discover, and repair identity theft problems.

Defend Against Identity Theft

If you notice any outward signs of identity theft, take action immediately! The first step is to place fraud alerts on your credit reports. Then take the following actions:

  • Review your credit reports carefully to determine where the security breach occurred.
  • Close accounts that have been tampered with, or that you suspect may have been accessed fraudulently.
  • Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission.
  • File a police report where the theft took place. Most creditors will want proof that a crime has been committed.

You can also place a credit freeze which will prevent anyone from opening new accounts in your name. This will not stop them from using accounts which have already been opened, which is why it is important to close any account that has been tampered with.

Identity Theft is a Serious Crime

You have the power to prevent many forms of identity theft if you are vigilant with yuour financial records and actions. While you may not be able to prevent every instance of identity theft, these steps will go a long way toward protecting you, your credit report, and your personal finances. Good luck!


Published or updated October 29, 2012.
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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kristen

All good advice Ryan. ID theft is one of those things that sticks with a victim for a long time and creates a lot of headaches. One thing I always warn people about is not to give out any information, especially via phone or e-mail, unless they are 110% sure of who they are speaking to. Scammers will send e-mails or place phone calls pretending to work for a credit card company, the IRS, etc. Unsuspecting people give out personal information.

As far as the IRS, they will never contact someone by e-mail. If you get an e-mail from someone claiming to be from the IRS, you can and should report it. You just forward the e-mail to phishing@irs.gov. There’s information about phishing scams at the IRS web site http://www.irs.gov.

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2 Miranda

Great advice, as always! Another thing to watch out for is the growing crime of child identity theft. Some thieves are actually stealing the identities of children, so you have to be careful. The fact that this information is even available for them to steal is somewhat disheartening.

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3 Ryan

Miranda: Great point! This is a growing crime and often isn’t discovered for years after the fact. One common form of child identity theft isn’t even for credit, but to get a social security number for illegal immigrants so they can work. This form of ID theft is often found when the IRS comes after children for back taxes!

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4 Craig

Do you recommend one over the other? I have heard great things about lifelock, to be honest since I’m so young and don’t have the financial risks as others I wasn’t thinking of buying, but always good to research.

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5 Ryan

Craig: I don’t recommend any of the Identity theft programs over the other. If all you are concerned about is getting your credit report checked for identity theft, then getting a free trial to one of these companies and then promptly canceling it might be a good way to check your credit report for identity theft and get peace of mind without spending a lot of money or making a big financial commitment.

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6 Camille@TheFinancialWoman.com

Great artilce that I would like to link on my site. It interests me because my mail was part of an FBI recovery several years ago. I learned that this really happens!

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7 Lindsay

It can be worth investing in a locking mailbox, too, especially if you live in a rural area where the houses tend to be set back far from the road. I know at least one person who had mail stolen and the information was used to open up credit cards in her name.

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8 Ryan

Great tip, Lindsay!

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9 TStrump

Definitely a big concern of mine.
I shred ANYTHING with my name on it, including junk mail.
I’m also considering one of those identity theft services at some point.
You can never be too careful.

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10 alexis

thanks im using advice 4 school project

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