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How To Protect Personal Information from Fraudsters

Written by Banks Editorial Team
8 min. read
Written by Banks Editorial Team
8 min. read

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The internet is ripe with cyber criminals awaiting the perfect opportunity to hijack your personal information and other sensitive data. And if they’re successful, you could find yourself in the midst of a financial mess that seems impossible to get out of. Fortunately, there are ways to protect your personal information from fraudsters, which you’ll learn more about in this guide. You’ll also discover actions you should take if your information is compromised to get on the path to recovery much sooner than later.

Free Check for Identity Theft
Get Notified When New Accounts & Fraud Alerts Are Detected On Your Experian® Credit Report. Exposed Personal Info Can Put You At Risk Of Identity Theft, Hacking, Spam And Robocalls. Get A Free Personal Privacy Scan From Experian™ Now And See Who Might Have Your Info.

What Is Identity Theft?

Identity theft is a term used to describe an incident that involves someone stealing your personal information and committing fraud, according to This could be in the form of unauthorized purchases, fraudulent credit applications, or tax filings, resulting in significant credit and financial damage that can be challenging to recover from. 

What Personal Information Should You Protect?

You’ll want to protect as much personal information as possible. Remember that you’re at a greater risk of falling victim to identity theft if your Social Security number, bank account numbers, debit card or credit card numbers, personal identification numbers (PINs) or passwords are exposed. Still, you want to take the necessary steps to secure your date of birth, your mother’s maiden name, address, and phone number. 

How To Protect Your Personal Information

These best practices will help shield your personal information from fraudsters. 

Have Strong Passwords

A rule of thumb is to use different passwords for your financial accounts. It’s equally important that you create strong passwords that incorporate a blend of lowercase letters, uppercase letters, numbers and special characters. But they shouldn’t include any personal details, like your birth date, that make them easy to figure out.

You’ll likely have trouble remembering all those unique passwords. Still, you can use a password manager or some other password management tool to store them in a safe place. Also, opt-in to two-factor authentication if it’s available. You’ll be prompted to enter a unique four or six-digit code sent to you by text when you sign in to your accounts online. 

You can also take these steps to protect email and social media accounts. They both contain sensitive information that can be hijacked by fraudsters to compromise your identity. 

Select Challenging Security Questions

The security questions used to secure your account or reset your password should be unique. However, it’s equally important that you don’t choose questions to which a cyber thief could easily find the answer through a simple online search or public records. 

Set Your Security and Privacy Settings

Are you a frequent user of social media? Be sure to review your security and privacy settings often and ensure your posts and photographs are only visible to your connections and not the general public. 

Also, check to see what other apps connected to your profile are permitted to share on your social media profiles. This information should also be limited to ensure your safety while online. 

Perform Software and System Updates

It can be tempting to ignore notifications regarding antivirus software updates, operating system software updates (i.e., Apple OS, Google Chrome or Windows) or updates for internet browsers. However, it may be in your best interest to perform these much-needed updates sooner than later to prevent bugs from sneaking in or other security issues from arising. 

Lock Your Devices

Any portable devices you use, whether it’s a smartphone, tablet or laptop computer, should be in the lock position when not in use at all times. There’s always a possibility that they can be stolen when not in your sight, and it would be very unfortunate if a thief were able to use one of your devices to steal your personal or financial information. 

Limit What You Share on Social Media Sites

It can be tempting to provide an up-close and personal look at your everyday life or a glimpse of unforgettable personal experiences on social media platforms. But there’s a problem with this approach. If you inadvertently post your location, it could give thieves the green light to burglarize your home. 

While this isn’t necessarily a cyber threat, it’s still worth considering. If thieves get their hands on personal information, credit cards or documents, they could use it to commit cyber theft. 

Close Dormant Online Accounts

Instead of letting accounts you no longer use sit idle, login in and close them. This helps protect your personal information online and prevent it from being stored or landing in the wrong hands due to a cyber-attack or company-wide data breach. 

Free Check for Identity Theft
Get Notified When New Accounts & Fraud Alerts Are Detected On Your Experian® Credit Report. Exposed Personal Info Can Put You At Risk Of Identity Theft, Hacking, Spam And Robocalls. Get A Free Personal Privacy Scan From Experian™ Now And See Who Might Have Your Info.

Request a Mail Hold

Any time you’re planning to travel for more than a few days, submit a request to the United States Postal Service (USPS) to hold your mail. You’ll need to create a free account to get started, but it doesn’t take up much of your time and will prevent your mail pieces, especially those with sensitive information, from sitting in your mailbox waiting to be stolen by a thief. You should also check your mail daily, if possible, to minimize the chance of mail theft. 

Only Use Secured Websites

If you’re planning to use a site to conduct online transactions or perform another task that requires you to input personal or financial information, confirm that it is secured. The same rule applies to online shopping with retailers and grocers. You can check the status of a website by referring to the URL and making sure it starts with “HTTPS,” which indicates that it is secured and your information is protected. 

Be Careful with Public Wi-Fi

Free public Wi-Fi networks are a major plus if you’re always on the go. Whether you’re at a coffee shop, event or running errands, you can surf the web without using up loads of your mobile data. But don’t let this added convenience put your private information in harm’s way. Use it with caution on your mobile devices. Never share personal data, log in to your bank or credit union’s website, make purchases or conduct any other form of business over a shared network. Otherwise, you risk becoming a victim of identity theft. 

Beware Of Personal Privacy Scams Like Phishing

Phishing is perpetrated by scammers in an attempt to capture sensitive personal information. For example, you could receive an email from an entity claiming to be your bank and requesting that you reset your password due to a security breach. However, the moment you select the link and input your information, it’s now in the hands of scammers. Or you get a call from your credit union requesting your Social Security number and other information to access your account that was supposedly victimized by a fraudster. 

The idea is to convince you that the entity contacting you is legit. But you can steer clear of online personal privacy phishing scams by using reputable sites that are secured or initiating contact before providing sensitive information. 

Consider Additional Protection

There’s no way to guarantee that your personal information won’t be compromised. However, purchasing additional protection can give you peace of mind knowing you can be covered in the event of an identity theft incident. 

Experian, the largest credit bureau in the nation, offers two forms of coverage to lend a helping hand: 

  • IdentityWorksSM Plus: includes identity protection, dark web surveillance, identity theft insurance of up to $500,000, access to a U.S.-based fraud resolution specialist, lost wallet assistance, identity theft monitoring and alerts, Experian credit lock, Experian credit monitoring and alerts, daily FICO score updates, additional auto, home, and bankcard FICO scores and access to the FICO Score Simulator. Prices start at $9.99 per month for one adult.
  • IdentityWorksSM Premium: get all the perks that come with the Plus plan, plus identity theft insurance of up to $1,000,000, three-bureau credit monitoring and quarterly three-bureau FICO score updates for a monthly fee of only $19.99 for one adult.

Both coverage options offer plans that include another adult and/or up to 10 children. Keep in mind that both options come with a free 30-day trial so you can test drive the service. 

Visit to get their IdentityWorksSM plan, or sign up today and learn more about their other product offers. You can also view your credit report or score for free with a CreditWorksSM Basic account, even if you decide an IdentityWorksSM plan isn’t right for you. 

What To Do If Your Personal Information Is Stolen

In the unfortunate event that your personal information is stolen and used to commit fraud, suggests you take these actions promptly: 

  • Step 1: Reach out to the fraud department of the affected companies and request that your accounts be frozen or closed. Also, change the passwords to restrict further access and file disputes with the credit reporting agencies.
  • Step 2: Contact one of three credit bureaus – Experian, TransUnion or Equifax – to place a free fraud alert on your credit report. They will notify the other two credit reporting agencies to do the same, and you’ll receive a letter in the mail confirming the fraud alert is intact. It will remain on your credit report for a year unless you opt to have it renewed.
  • Step 3: Visit and request free copies of your credit reports from the major credit bureaus. Review each report in its entirety to ensure there are no additional fraudulent accounts. But if you notice them, refer to step one.
  • Step 4: Notify the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) of the fraud by calling 1-877-438-4338 or submitting an online form. After filing a grievance, you’ll receive an Identity Theft Report and recovery plan to help you get back on track.
  • Step 5: File a police report with local law enforcement and request a copy. This step is optional but can be beneficial if the theft results in severe damage to your credit health. It can also be provided to credit reporting agencies and companies where fraud was perpetrated to prove your innocence. To complete this step, you’ll need to provide a government-issued ID, a document that serves as proof of address (i.e., lease agreement, the electric bill, water bill, mortgage statement), a copy of the Identity Theft Report received from the FTC after completing the previous step and any other supporting documentation that proves you were a victim of identity theft.

Depending on the types of accounts that were used to commit fraud, it may be necessary to take additional steps. Here are some additional suggestions from, by account type, to help expedite the recovery process: 

  • Bank accounts: Request a ChexSystems report, which details checking account history, online or by calling 800-428-9623. If there are fraudulent checking accounts present, reach out to the financial institution and request that they be closed.
  • Fraudulent bankruptcy filings: File a written complaint with the U.S. Trustee in the region where the fraudulent bankruptcy filing took place or hire an attorney to assist you.
  • Government benefits: Reach out to the state or federal agency that dispersed the benefits and inquire about the next steps to have the issue resolved. (Note: Social Security grievances can be reported by phone at 1-800-269-0271 or online by visiting
  • Housing rentals: Contact the landlord and inquire about services used to screen tenants. Once you have the information handy, reach out to the service provider to determine what the next steps are to file an identity theft report.
  • Investments: inquire with your investment broker about their procedures regarding identity theft and the next steps.
  • Phones: Call the National Consumer Telecom and Utilities Exchange at 1-866-349-5185 or visit the website at and ask for a copy of your Data Report. Reach out to the companies that you have accounts with but don’t recognize to have them closed and the negative reporting removed. If you don’t have much luck, you can escalate your complaint by calling the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) at 1-888-835-5322.
  • Student loans: Identity theft complaints for federal student loans should be directed to the Department of Education Office of Inspector General, which can be reached at 1-800-647-8733. But if the fraudulent accounts are tied to private student loans, reach out to the lender or higher education entity directly.
  • Utilities: Call the service provider to explain the situation or contact the Public Utility Commission in your state of residence.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Below are some frequently asked questions regarding identity theft, ways to protect your personal information from fraudsters and what to do if your information is compromised.

What are some warning signs of identity theft?

A few tell-tale warning signs of identity include receiving correspondence from creditors and lenders for debt products you didn’t apply for or collection calls for past-due accounts in your name that you have no knowledge of. You may also receive bills in the mail for goods or services you didn’t purchase.

Can you use your credit report to uncover identity theft?

Yes, credit reports can shed light on fraudulent accounts you weren’t aware of. For this reason, it’s important to review your credit reports regularly – at least once per year – to ensure they’re free of errors or accounts that don’t belong to you. In addition, as mentioned above, you can request free copies of your credit reports from the major credit reporting agencies – Experian, TransUnion and Equifax – on an annual basis.

Will freezing your credit reports prevent identity theft?

Freezing credit reports with the primary credit bureaus and Innovis helps protect you from identity theft by stopping fraudsters from applying for debt products using your information. Also, consider freezing your credit profiles with the National Telecommunications and Utilities Exchange stops identity thieves from applying for or opening utility services without your authorization.

How do you contact the credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit profile?

You’ll only need to contact one of the three, and they’ll alert the others. Below is the contact information you can use to place a fraud alert on your credit report:
Experian: 888-397-3742 or
TransUnion: 888-909-8872 or
Equifax: 800-685-1111 or

Should you report identity theft to law enforcement officials?

It never hurts to report identity theft to the police. In fact, you can use the report from law enforcement to substantiate your claims when working with creditors, lenders, credit reporting agencies or other companies to have the issue resolved and your name cleared.

Free Check for Identity Theft
Get Notified When New Accounts & Fraud Alerts Are Detected On Your Experian® Credit Report. Exposed Personal Info Can Put You At Risk Of Identity Theft, Hacking, Spam And Robocalls. Get A Free Personal Privacy Scan From Experian™ Now And See Who Might Have Your Info.

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