Identity theft is sadly only becoming more prevalent. In 2016, $16 billion was stolen from 15.4 million U.S. consumers, according to Javelin Strategy & Research’s 2017 Identity Fraud Study. Add in news stories such as the Equifax breach, and you have every reason to be worried about your financial security.
The consequences of being a victim of identity theft can range from someone going on a mini spending spree with your credit card to taking out a mortgage or car loan in your name. A thief could even take out a student loan in your name.
So, how to prevent identity theft? Luckily, just as the criminals are upping their game in the cyber world, so are the protection services and tools available to consumers for identity theft protection.
How to prevent identity theft with these 5 tools
While you might think a regular credit checking service is enough, you can secure your personal information from multiple angles for little to no money. Here are five online tools to boost your security and prevent identity theft.
1. Protect your passwords with Dashlane
One of the most basic ways to increase your identity theft protection is to take control of your password. Dashlane, an online password management tool, helps you do that.
For almost every website — including important ones such as your bank account — you have to enter a password. More than 80 percent of people ages 18 and up reuse the same password across multiple accounts, according to Keeper Security, leaving them vulnerable to hackers.
This free program will create complicated passwords using numbers, symbols, and letters that are at least 12 characters long. It stores and encrypts passwords to ensure top-level security. It also has an autofill feature, so you don’t have to worry about remembering your passwords. Dashlane will even alert you if they notice suspicious activity on an account.
There’s also an upgraded service option. For just $3.33 a year, you can sync your account information across unlimited devices. You’ll never forget or lose your passwords, and the bad guys will have a tougher time figuring them out.
You can securely store credit and debit cards, bank accounts, PayPal info, and more to make online purchases safely. The company uses a “patented security architecture” that includes strong encryption and two-factor authentication process.
“I have been using Dashlane for about a year, on my home and work computers, mobile phone and tablet,” said one reviewer. “It’s reliable, easy to use and helps me keep a huge number of login credentials working properly without having to reset my password whenever I get the details mixed up.”
2. Protect your phone with Threema
Whether we like it or not, we are on our phones constantly. We can access our bank accounts, answer sensitive emails, and much more. While it certainly makes life easier, it also makes it easier for hackers to get into a vault of personal information.
Threema, which costs $2.99 on iOS and Android devices, lets you send encrypted text messages, recorded voice messages, photos, videos and files, and even make secure phone calls to people who also use the app.
You don’t need to provide any personal information to sign up. Each user is given a random Threema ID for identification, so you have complete anonymity on your phone. The app is so secure, even the server administrators at Threema can’t see the messages you’re sending.
You can use Threema across your devices, where it encrypts all your communication, including messages, group chats, files and even status messages.
3. Protect yourself on social media with Social Media Vault
So much of our social and business life revolves around social media. This makes it a hotspot for hackers to find our personal information and our contacts’ information, making identity theft that much easier for them.
To ensure identity theft protection on all of your accounts, the Social Media Vault mobile app compiles everything from Facebook to Instagram in one location with a secure entry system. You simply log in to the app to access all of your social media accounts.
If someone tries to access one of your accounts via your phone, there’s a special anti-hack feature. The app takes a timestamped picture with the front-facing camera when someone enters the wrong password. You’ll be able to see the culprit and know when they tried to gain access.
You can even choose to hide the app icon altogether, so if someone physically gets your phone they won’t know where to find your information. To gain access, open the dialer and press *8800 and hit call. You’ll quickly be back in your app and asked to enter your passcode. Easy enough.
The best news of all? The app is free and covers 55 different social media platforms.
4. Protect your computer browsing with Private Internet Access
Your phone and social media are covered, but how do you prevent identity theft with your everyday online browsing? A virtual private network (VPN).
A secure VPN, like one provided by Private Internet Access, lets you browse the internet normally, but changes the information behind the scenes so it’s unreadable by anyone trying to snoop.
Having a Private Internet Access-enabled browser prevents somebody from watching your Internet connection, and learning what sites you visit. It also prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location.
Users can sign up and pay anonymously; a yearly membership only costs $39.95.
It’s important to remember to manually reconnect to the VPN when you want to use it. Setting it up doesn’t automatically mean it’s up and running. You can put the VPN in your menu bar on your computer to make this process simple.
5. Protect your credit with LastPass
Not only does LastPass work similarly to Dashlane by generating and securing passwords, but it can also monitor your credit. The free version alerts you when changes have occurred to your accounts that could affect your credit report, including opening a credit card or taking out a loan.
For just $9.95 a month, LastPass Premium offers credit monitoring with bonuses such as advanced multi-factor authentication, priority tech support, and 1GB of encrypted file storage. These features help make it more difficult for hackers to access your accounts.
When you receive a credit monitoring alert, LastPass Premium provides you with information on what changed in your credit report, and what steps you need to take to resolve the issue.
Constant vigilance is key
At the end of the day, it’s up to you to be vigilant about protecting yourself from identity theft, and these tools can help. By signing up or downloading one or more of these services and apps, you’ll make it that much harder for a criminal to target you.
It’s important to remember that your identity goes beyond the basics of just your social security number or credit card. Protecting your social media accounts and passwords is a safeguard against those avenues for entry by hackers.
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