110 million Target customers in 2013.

80 million Anthem clients in 2015.

20 million Federal Office of Personnel Management employees in 2015.

179 million borrowers from Experian in 2017.

Data breaches as a result of identity theft affect millions of people a year. In fact, the Identity Theft Resource Center reported that from 2005-2018, 1,115,562,716 records were exposed.1

Many experts have issued the same warning: it’s not about “if” you’re data will be stolen, it’s about “when.” It’s essential that anyone living in the 21st century safeguard themselves from potential risk.

When information is stolen, it is generally sold on the dark web (the cyber version of the black market). Stolen credit card account information may be used to make expensive purchases. In more serious cases, social security numbers are stolen, allowing thieves to completely assume the victim’s financial identity – using the victim’s name to open new accounts or pay medical bills. At a minimum, identity theft can affect the victim’s credit score when these purchases or accounts are not paid. But it can also lead to years of legal trouble.

Here are a few ways you can protect yourself.


Most companies that you do business with will NOT need your social security number. Government agencies, your employer, and financial institutions will require it, but beyond that, it’s best to avoid giving it out. If someone asks for it, remember that it’s best to be cautious. If they demand your social security number for services, make sure that it’s an industry standard and, if it’s not, take your business to someone else.

Similarly, don’t share any personal information over social media or through unsolicited telephone or email requests. Thieves are notorious for using phishing scams to get your information. They will generally do this by sending an email asking for personal information. Clicking on a link could cause malware to be uploaded onto your computer. Don’t fall for it. If you aren’t certain of the site’s credibility, call the company you think it’s from to verify they sent it.


Site Security

Never send information over the internet unless the site is secure. To check whether or site is secure or not, look at the URL of the website. The website is secure if it has an SSL Certificate. This is verified with the “s” in “https.” A URL with only “http” is NOT secure. An SSL Certificate gives you assurance that if you send your information over the internet from this page, it cannot be hacked.

An SSL Certificate will guarantee that a site is secure, but it does not guarantee that the company is legitimate. Hesitate to send information through any site that does not have Extended Validation unless you know the company. A site with an EV Certificate will have a lock icon in the left-hand side of the address bar.

Public Wi-Fi

Beware of public Wi-Fi. Hackers can intercept information you send through legitimate public Wi-Fi networks or a fake Wi-Fi network that they created. This doesn’t mean you should never use public Wi-Fi again – just make sure you do it safely.

Make sure to change the settings on your phone so that it does not automatically connect to available Wi-Fi networks.

If you are in a public space, verify the Wi-Fi network name with the vendor.

Never send financial or personal information out over your phone or computer when not at home or connected to a secure Wi-Fi network.


Not all identity thefts use state of the art technology to steal your information; some just lift it out of the garbage. Shredding any documentation that includes social security numbers or account numbers will deter even the most aggressive thief.


Avoid using the regular mail for financial communication as much as possible. Whereas some thieves will sift through your garbage for personal information, others will just take it out of your mailbox!

As we discussed earlier, many of your bills can be paid electronically through direct payment. Your statements can also be sent electronically to your email. Tax forms are particularly vulnerable to theft since they contain all the information a thief needs to assume a person’s identity. For this reason, consider filing your taxes electronically.

Sometimes entirely avoiding the mail isn’t possible. If you are concerned about the security of the mail in your mailbox – especially if there have been thefts in your neighborhood, consider getting a mailbox with a lock to keep thieves out.


Your credit card company provides you with protection if you are the victim of identity theft. You can file a claim disputing the charges and will oftentimes get them off your record. On the other hand, if a thief gets access to your PIN number when you use your ATM card and completely empties your bank account, it is a lot more difficult to get a full monetary refund. Always protect your pin number when using your card at the bank and avoid using your ATM card for purchases.

The chip-and-pin technology used on newer cards is more difficult to counterfeit than the swipe strips. Try to use cards with this technology.


Most people do not use passwords on their devices that security experts consider secure. To make sure the passwords you are using are difficult for hackers to break, your passwords should NOT:

  • be shorter than 10 words (16 is the recommended minimum)
  • contain personal information like birthdates
  • be composed of any words found in a dictionary

Additionally, consider using a password manager software like Last Pass. These programs randomly generate complex passwords for all your accounts, and all you need to remember is a master password. Finally, use multi-factor authentication when available. This requires that you use at least two different methods to access your account, like a password and text or email verification.


Be sure to review your credit reports consistently and frequently. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion to provide all consumers with one free credit report per year. To get your free reports, visit To ensure the security of your financial information, check one credit report at least every six months. If you check one credit report every four months, you’ll still get all your reports for free, and you can’t put a price on security.