The purpose of this disclosure is to explain how we make money without charging you for our content.
Our mission is to help people at any stage of life make smart financial decisions through research, reporting, reviews, recommendations, and tools.
Earning your trust is essential to our success, and we believe transparency is critical to creating that trust. To that end, you should know that many or all of the companies featured here are partners who advertise with us.
Our content is free because our partners pay us a referral fee if you click on links or call any of the phone numbers on our site. If you choose to interact with the content on our site, we will likely receive compensation. If you don't, we will not be compensated. Ultimately the choice is yours.
Opinions are our own and our editors and staff writers are instructed to maintain editorial integrity, but compensation along with in-depth research will determine where, how, and in what order they appear on the page.
To find out more about our editorial process and how we make money, click here.
You can’t protect yourself completely from ID theft, but there are several tricks you can use to avoid being an easy target:
Strengthen your passwords: A short password, and particularly one that’s a name or word in a dictionary, can be easily cracked by computers. And simply adding “@” for the letter “a” isn’t going to fool the bad guys. Use the tips in “How do I create a really strong password?” to create a more secure log on.
Review your accounts regularly: Check the transactions on your credit cards and bank accounts weekly for any red flags. And consider setting alerts to notify you anytime a transaction is made over a certain monetary limit, like $50. This way you’ll know almost instantly of a charge you didn’t make, recommends Neal O’Farrell, executive director of The Identity Theft Council.
Use your free credits: You’re allowed one free report a year from each of the three credit agencies, which you can get via annualcreditreport.com. Space your requests out so you get one every four months. Scan the report to make sure all credit activity checks out, but also pay attention to who has enquired about your credit history; sometimes fraudsters will use an enquiry to test your credit and protection.
Ditch your mailbox. It’s easy for thieves to swipe information from unlocked mailboxes, so eliminate that paper trail by handling taxes, bill pay and other activities online instead.
Avoid carrying your Social Security Card…unless absolutely necessary.
Buy a shredder. Any paper documents, letters, bills, etc. that contain personal information should be shredded so they can’t be fished out of the trash. That even includes junk mail like pre-approved credit card offers.
Limit free Wi-Fi use. These public connections allow anyone nearby to see your browsing activity, so save the online purchases or bill pay for when you’re securely connected at home.
Avoid clicking on links: Virus-laced links in emails are any easy way for hackers to access your computer and take personal information. Rather than clicking on a link, attempt to get to the same web page through a Google search.
Make sure you have antivirus and anti-phishing software, along with a firewall, installed on all your devices to fight off hacking attempts. Keep on top of all operating system updates.
Lock down your devices. Password-protect your phone, tablets and laptops to add another hurdle for thieves to overcome. And sign up for remote wiping on your phone, so that you can eliminate any personal information if it is stolen.
Freeze your credit. By calling each of the three credit agencies and paying a fee up around $10 per bureau, you can place a freeze on your account, which prevents any new lines of credit from being opened. The catch: You will need to thaw your credit anytime you want to apply for a new line of credit yourself, and you’ll have to remember to refreeze it once the process is complete.