Wondering how to avoid identity theft? While nothing can guarantee that fraud won’t happen to you, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk. Our identity specialists recommend a few basic rules to stay safe. Use strong passwords, keep a close eye on your credit, shred physical documents that are no longer needed, and take care when using your device in public.

Identity theft is a growing problem.

That’s why it’s more important than ever to protect yourself from identity theft and fraud. Fortunately, being alert goes a long way when it comes to keeping your personal and financial information safe.

If you’re an Allstate Identity Protection member, we’ve got you covered should fraud occur. Still, we recommend everybody take steps to avoid identity theft in the first place.

Practice online safety and follow these internet safety tips

These days, it’s difficult to do anything without being connected online in some way. Many of us use the internet to shop, pay bills, send emails, and keep in touch with friends on social media.

It’s often necessary to provide personal information online to get what you need. For example, you may need to input a password to log in to your bank account, or make an online purchase by entering your credit card number.

But when you’re online, know that scammers may try to trick you into sharing sensitive information. Here are a few schemes we’ve seen: 

  • Fraudsters may pose as a representative from a legitimate business or organization. Know that scammers may reach out online — or even via phone or through the mail — and request your sensitive details. They might claim that there’s a problem with one of your accounts and ask you to confirm an account number, or pose as a customer service representative from your bank. This is all a ruse to try to get you to reveal personally identifiable information (PII), which can then be used to commit identity theft.

  • Or, they may pretend to be a friend or relative who’s in trouble. In these cases, scammers can be very convincing, but you should trust your instincts if something seems off or unusual. Be wary of any urgent request to send money to help a loved one, especially if the request is coming online or over the phone. And if a third party reaches out to ask for money on a friend's behalf, you're safe to assume it's a scam.

If you’re aware of how scammers operate online, you’ll be a step ahead. In addition, some basic online safety tips can help you protect your information.

When browsing online, be sure not to overshare. By posting seemingly innocent details, you can reveal more than you intended, which fraudsters may use to their advantage.

Another tip for online safety is to make sure you create and use strong passwords that are difficult for hackers to guess. When it comes to passwords, you should also:

  • Avoid sharing them with other people, even family members

  • Change them right away if you are part of a data breach

  • Consider using a password manager to keep track of login credentials

Closely monitor your bank accounts and credit cards

Certain types of online accounts are more sensitive than others, and financial accounts are where scammers can do the most damage. When you receive statements for your bank accounts, retirement accounts, or credit cards — whether it’s by mail or online — we recommend you open them right away and review them for accuracy.

Do you see a transaction or purchase that you don’t recognize? Flag it and contact your bank directly for additional information or to file a dispute. 

In addition to monitoring your bank statements, it’s important to stay on top of your credit by regularly checking your credit report.

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, you’re entitled to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three major consumer reporting companies (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian).

Your credit report includes details about large purchases, loans, and other public records. Reviewing it regularly can help you spot any errors or irregularities, so you can let the bureaus know if anything needs to be corrected.

For an extra layer of protection, we recommend using a credit monitoring service, like the one we offer. 

Don’t leave a paper trail

Here’s another good habit to adopt: shred financial statements, receipts, and any other physical documents once you no longer need them.

There are some documents that you should keep forever, like birth and death certificates and Social Security cards. 

But Consumer Reports has some guidance on when to dispose of other sensitive documents: 

  • ATM and credit card receipts can be tossed once you reconcile them with your monthly statements (unless you need them to support your tax return)

  • You can get rid of loan documents once the loan is paid off

  • Tax records can be thrown away after seven years

When you are disposing of sensitive information, be sure to shred the documents before tossing them in your trash or recycling bins.

Be smart with your phone

Picture this: you’re using your phone in a coffee shop and a cybercriminal is physically nearby and looks over your shoulder.

This is called “shoulder surfing” and it’s a low-tech but effective way of stealing personal information.

So, it’s smart to always be aware of your surroundings when using your phone or any mobile device. Keep your screen out of sight from others — especially when entering sensitive information — and consider using a privacy screen, which can offer an extra layer of protection.

Another tip: never provide personal or financial information over the phone where others can hear you, and be careful when using public Wi-Fi. Thieves can easily compromise a public Wi-Fi connection to steal personal information and confidential data like passwords, user names, and private messages.

If you have to use public Wi-Fi, be sure to use a virtual private network (known as VPN). A VPN is a service that provides a protected network connection, making it hard for hackers to track you online and steal your personal information.

If identity theft happens to you, we’re here to help

We hope these simple tips will help you steer clear of criminals looking to access your personal information for their own gain.

But if you're a member and identity theft happens to you, we'll be here to guide you.