5 ways to get identity theft protection — because you need it

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Identity theft is more common than you might think. (Photo: Getty)
Identity theft is more common than you might think. (Photo: Getty) (tommaso79 via Getty Images)

Identity theft protection is one of those things you don't really think you need — until someone actually steals your identity. And then, you'll really wish you had taken the steps to protect yourself.

Unfortunately, identity theft happens more often than you might think. Nearly 13 million people in the U.S. were victims of identity theft in 2019, according to a 2020 identity fraud survey from research-based advisory company Javelin — and it's a problem that seems to be increasing.

Not sure why you should care so much about identity theft? When scammers get a hold of your personal information, they can access a range of your accounts and cause plenty of damage to your financial health and security. The Federal Trade Commission lists potential issues identity thieves can cause, such as liquidating your bank account, making fraudulent charges to your credit cards, opening new utility accounts and getting medical treatment under your health insurance.

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It can be scary to think about someone trying to steal your identity and what they might do with your private information, but there are ways to protect yourself. Here's what cybersecurity experts recommend.

Identity theft protection tip #1: Keep your personal details private

This is crucial, computer security expert Graham Cluley, co-host of the Smashing Security podcast, tells Yahoo Life. "Be careful about who you share your personal details with," he warns. For example, if you tend to use your dog's name as your password for every online account you have, it's probably better not to repeatedly put Fido's name on your public Instagram and Facebook accounts.

Identity theft protection tip #2: Get stronger passwords

Cluley specifically recommends that you secure your online accounts with "strong, hard-to-crack, unique passwords." At a basic level, you'll want your passwords to combine three or more unrelated words and proper nouns, with numbers separating them, Joseph Steinberg, cybersecurity and emerging technologies advisor, tells Yahoo Life. You can add special characters in between if a particular site requires them.

Passwords like that can be tricky to remember and keep track of, which is why Cluley suggests getting a password manager. Worth noting: Password managers can also help generate new passwords, too. "You should have a different password for each service — never reuse passwords," Cluley says.

One solution: LastPass Premium password generator, which creates long, randomized and secure passwords that will help protect you against online security threats. What’s more, the software does this for every account you use — creating distinct passwords.

Secure your online accounts with
Secure your online accounts with "strong, hard-to-crack, unique passwords," recommend experts. (Photo: Getty) (MoMo Productions via Getty Images)

Identity theft protection tip #3: Use multi-factor authentication

In case you're not familiar with it, multi-factor authentication is an online authentication method where you're only given access to an account after you've provided at least two forms of evidence that you are who you claim to be. That could mean answering a security question after you enter your password, or clicking on an image you designated as "yours" on a particular account after typing in your password. Whenever possible, Cluley recommends using this feature on your accounts.

Identity theft protection tip #4: Leave some personal identification at home

There's no need to carry around all forms of personal identification, other than your driver's license and, when needed, your passport. "Do not carry your social security card with you," Steinberg says. Why? If someone gets a hold of it, they have easy access to your social security number, an important verification tool many companies use to let someone access your private information.

Identity theft protection tip #5: Use alerts

Many banks and accounts will allow you to set up alerts whenever someone has accessed your information. "Use alerts on your bank accounts, credit cards, and credit report," Steinberg suggests. That way, you'll know quickly if someone is trying to get to your information or has already breached your security.

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