How to Prevent Identity Theft

Identity theft is a serious problem for many Floridians. It can wreak havoc on your financial and personal life, and the problems can last for years. 

But what exactly is identity theft and how can you protect yourself from being a victim? Are there any signs that could indicate that you identity has been stolen?

There are many steps you can take to protect yourself from identity theft in Florida. And you can talk to your Florida independent insurance agent about special coverage to help you recover if it ever happens to you. 

What Is Identity Theft?

Identity theft is a blanket term that refers to a broad range of activities involving someone stealing your personal information, like your Social Security number or bank account numbers, and using it to create new accounts, apply for loans, make purchases, lease cars or residences, and even obtain employment. 

Victims of identity theft may lose thousands of dollars before ever suspecting a thing, and once your identity has been stolen, it can take years to close fraudulent accounts, get some of your money back, and fix your credit. 

Identity thieves in Florida can steal your information in a variety of ways, including:

  • Data breach: Unauthorized access to a company’s or an organization’s data. Thieves may steal names, Social Security numbers, and credit card numbers. 
  • Unsafe browsing: Sharing information with an unsafe website or a website that has been hit by hackers. 
  • Dark web marketplaces: Stolen personal information may wind up on the “dark web” (a hidden network of websites that aren’t accessible by normal browsers) where it can be sold to others with nefarious intentions. 
  • Malware attack: Malicious software designed to steal your data or spy on your computer activity without your knowledge.
  • Credit card theft: Stolen credit cards or credit card numbers can be used to make fraudulent purchases. This can happen through physical theft of cards, data breaches, credit card skimmers, and online retail accounts where card information is stored. 
  • Mail theft: Thieves steal bank and credit card statements and other personal information right from your mailbox or from your trash. 
  • Phishing and spam attacks: Scammers use email or text messages to steal your sensitive information. Fraudulent emails may appear to be from a reputable source, and may ask you to provide personal information like bank account or credit card numbers. 
  • Wi-Fi hacking: Hackers can invade your computer or phone while you’re using your phone or computer on a public network, such as at an airport or in a coffee shop. 
  • Mobile phone theft: Thieves physically steal and unlock your phone in order to access the personal information that it contains.
  • Credit card skimming: Skimming devices are placed over a card reader at an ATM or gas pump, allowing thieves to read the information from the magnetic strip, and then store it or transmit it allowing the criminals to use the card to make fraudulent purchases. 

How Can I Prevent Identity Theft in Florida?

There are numerous ways in which criminals can invade your life and steal your vital financial information or otherwise profit from your innocent behavior. You first need to safeguard your credit cards, Social Security card, and other important financial documents and personal information from physical theft. 

Then you need to make sure that your computer systems and your online activity are safe and secure. You can take a number of steps to protect yourself from electronic identity theft, including:  

  • Keep your computer software updated. Always keep your operating system, services, and applications updated to include protection from the latest bugs and vulnerabilities. This applies to your smartphones, tablets, desktop computers, and more. 
  • Use strong passwords and change them frequently. Never use the same password on more than one website, and be sure to always use a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters.
  • Use up-to-date antivirus and anti-malware software. 
  • Activate your email’s anti-spam blocking feature. A lot of unexpected cybercrime occurs if you open an unsolicited email with suspicious links or attachments. Be sure to enable the anti-span feature of your email, and never open links or attachments from unknown senders.
  • Shop only from secure and well-known websites. Make sure that any site you’re shopping on is well-known and uses an encrypted connection.

What Are the Signs of Identity Theft?

There are some signs that can tip you off that you’ve been a victim of identity theft. First, be sure to review your credit reports at least once per year. Watch for accounts that you don’t remember opening or an inexplicable drop in your credit score, which would be a sign that something is seriously wrong. 

Other signs of identity theft include:

  • Failure to receive important mail like bills or checks
  • Receiving bills for items that you didn’t purchase
  • Receiving credit card bills for accounts that you did not open
  • You have an excellent credit rating but are denied credit
  • Noticing unauthorized bank transactions or withdrawals
  • Receiving a notice from a business (e.g., a retailer) that your personal information may have been compromised in a large scale breach
  • Denial of your electronic tax filing
  • Emails indicating unauthorized account access
  • Receiving a bill or an explanation of benefits from your health insurance company for care that you didn’t receive

How Can I Protect Myself From Identity Theft?

You need to be constantly vigilant in order to protect yourself from identity theft. One of the most important things you can do is to consistently monitor all of your financial accounts for suspicious or out-of-the-ordinary activity. If you catch it early, you may be able to prevent widespread damage to your credit and devastating financial losses.

  • Read your credit card and bank statements carefully and often.
  • Know your payment due dates. If a bill doesn't show up when you expect it, look into it.
  • Read the statements from your health insurance plan. Make sure the claims paid match the care you received.
  • Shred any documents with personal and financial information.
  • Review each of your three credit reports at least once a year to check for fraudulent accounts and activity.

How Can an Agent Help Me Protect Myself From Identity Theft?

A Florida independent insurance agent can help you assess your need for identity theft protection, or Florida cybercrime insurance, from your personal insurance carrier. 

Personal cybercrime insurance is available, and it can protect you from certain types of cyberattacks or if you are a victim of some type of a cybercrime. It may help you pay for the costs of recovering from a cybercrime as well. 

In addition to identity theft, cybercrime insurance in Florida might cover:

  • Ransomware attacks and cyber extortion
  • Malware attacks
  • Phishing scams 
  • Attacks that compromise your bank account(s)
  • Cyber bullying or Internet stalking

Cybercrime insurance may be sold as a standalone policy, but for individuals it is more often sold as part of a package or an endorsement to a Florida homeowners insurance policy. Not all home insurance policies or companies cover cybercrime. You’ll need to discuss your coverage with an independent insurance agent

Article Reviewed by | Paul Martin

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