If this headline made your heart skip a beat, then you already have some insight into the damage that identity theft can do to your finances, credit standing and stress level. Knowing how to prevent identity theft is equally as important as understanding what to do if it actually happens. Keep in mind that even if identity theft doesn’t directly affect you, being aware of the recovery steps can help your kids, family and friends.

4 Types of Identity Theft

Identity theft isn’t one-size-fits-all. Fraud comes in a variety of shapes and sizes that may surprise you — and require different tactics to manage. Here are some common identity theft situations you could encounter.


  1. Social Identity Theft: This involves stealing and using personal information, like your name and photos, to create a fake social media account.

  2. Medical Identity Theft: Sometimes fraudsters will use your medical ID number to access medical services or try to get medical reimbursement from your healthcare provider.

  3. Tax Identity Theft: This happens when an identity thief uses your Social Security number to steal your tax refund.

  4. Child Identity Theft: Some thieves will even use a child’s personal information, like name and social security number, to open credit cards or other accounts.


How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

Now that you’ve got some intel into what types of personal information identity thieves are targeting, it’s time to take practical steps to protect your accounts, passwords and identifying details.


  • Monitor your account activity frequently. Check your monthly statements for anything that looks strange. Think beyond bank accounts and credit cards — also monitor transactions on healthcare records and cell phone accounts.

  • Set up online account alerts. Make monitoring easy by signing up for email or text alerts to get notified about unexpected account activity. Account balance threshold alerts are a great way to stay on the lookout for sudden dips in your balance or unusually large transactions.

  • Use a credit monitoring service. These kinds of services monitor your credit report automatically and will alert you if someone has opened a new account in your name.

  • Know the latest scams. Being aware is half the battle. The FTC Scam Alert has an updated list of common scams that have been recently reported.

  • Verify any calls or emails you get about your finances. Don’t respond to any suspicious emails or calls. Instead, contact your financial institution directly by using the contact information listed on their website or on your monthly statements. Ask if these inquiries are legitimate or fraudulent. They’ll appreciate your caution, because you may help alert them to a fraudster.


For even more fraud prevention tips, check out the FTC Onguard Online site for the most up-to-date details to help guard against online fraud and identity theft.


Signs of Identity Theft

No matter how safe you play it, identity theft happens and sometimes it’s hard to notice. The good news is there are some signs you can watch for. If any of these happen, you should dig a little deeper and check your accounts for possible fraud.


  • Your monthly bills or statements stop being delivered to your mail

  • You get bills for cell phones, credit cards, utilities, student loans, medical services, government benefits or other accounts you didn’t open

  • You receive phone calls from debt collectors about debts that aren’t yours

  • You notice unrecognizable accounts or inaccurate information on your credit report

  • You get denied for credit that you didn’t apply for or you’re denied for unexpected reasons

  • You’re notified about password, address or other personal information changes you didn’t make

  • You have an account frozen unexpectedly

  • You get paid by an employer you don’t recognize

  • You are notified about a bankruptcy motion filed in your name


What to Do If Your Identity is Stolen

It’s happened. Your identity has been compromised. Now what? Taking quick action is essential to protecting your accounts and financial health. This checklist can make it easier to stay on track while you get your credit and personal information back on track. Be sure to document any communications you have with the agencies and companies you work with during the recovery process.


  • File an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at IdentityTheft.gov.

  • File a police report and keep a copy of it. Your police report can help with removing fraudulent debt from your accounts.

  • Report the suspected fraud to the company or companies where it happened. Be clear that you think your identity was stolen.

  • Freeze or close any fraudulent accounts that were opened.

  • Place an identity fraud alert with one of the big three credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. You only need to contact one, because they are required to contact the other two.

  • Check your credit report. You can do this with the three credit bureaus or one-stop service apps.

  • Change passwords and PINs for all your key accounts.

  • If you experienced tax identity or child identity theft, fill out the IRS 14039 Form (Identity Theft Affidavit).

  • Contact the Social Security Administration if you think your Social Security number was used for fraudulent activities.

  • Keep checking your credit reports for the first year to make sure no new fraud has occurred. The three national consumer reporting companies are required to provide you with a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months at your request.

Preventing and reporting identity theft can feel overwhelming. A little peace of mind for you and your loved ones goes a long way when you’re faced with the possibility of having to recover from an identity theft experience.


1. Mark Van Divner. "12 Steps to Help Keep Protected from Identity Theft at Home". Accessed March 25, 2019.
2. "Fraud and Identity Theft - Ally Bank". Accessed March 25, 2019.

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