9 Simple Steps to Prevent Identity Theft

It’s not hard to fall into these good habits to keep your identity and personal info safe.

A woman works on her computer in a coffee shop
Avoid entering passwords, especially for online banking and email, on public Wi-Fi when possible.
Flamingo Images / Shutterstock

For all the ways the Information Age has improved our lives, there have been a few worrisome glitches—such as identity theft. That's the illegal use of someone else's personal information to obtain money or credit. Approximately 16.7 million people were victims of identity theft in 2017, according to Javelin Research. Here are nine easy ways you can protect yourself.

Be careful with your Social Security number.

Don’t give out your Social Security number over the phone—ever—unless you’re on the line with a credible financial institution that you've called. Also, never provide it to any organization or business online, unless you’re applying for a job, a credit card, a new loan, or filling out legitimate online forms from trusted sources. Keep your social security card at home, and never include your Social Security number on your checks.


Up your password game.

Hackers use digital tools to guess passwords. Make sure your passwords are complex enough to make them difficult to get. If you do business with a company that has experienced a data breach, change your passwords immediately.

Avoid questionable online shopping sites.

If you run across an online deal that just seems too good to be true—such as 90 percent off the latest smartphone—it probably is.

Open emails with caution.

If you don’t recognize the sender or the email address, don’t open it. Also, be wary of suspicious-looking email, even if it looks like it’s from a friend. Your friend’s email was probably hacked. Delete the email, and let your friend know about it—by phone or text.

Keep your antivirus software up-to-date.

Hackers design viruses to sneak into your applications, so they can steal your personal information. With that in mind, make sure you have antivirus software running—and keep it updated.

Conduct financial tasks over secure networks only.

Don’t check your bank account balances or credit card statements when using public Wi-Fi. As a precaution, consider using a virtual privacy network (VPN) when connecting to the Internet in a public place as unsecured connections can be hijacked.

Shred printed materials.

Even in the digital age, one of the easiest ways for someone to steal your identity is off a printed check, so keep your checkbook at home. Shred any mail, receipts, or expired credit cards to prevent critical information from falling into the hands of dumpster divers.

Appear to be at home when you're away.

If you’re away on vacation, ask a neighbor to pick up your mail, so it’s not easily stolen. If you're planning on a longer trip, contact your local post office to request that it hold your mail until you return.

Review your digital identity regularly.

Remember to always examine monthly credit card and financial account statements to look for any unauthorized activity. If you discover anything that appears amiss, contact institutions immediately to discuss the matter. If it appears your accounts have been accessed without your permission, file a report and contact the three credit-reporting agencies to request that they freeze your credit reports.

Get peace of mind.

AAA Members can enroll in the ProtectMyIDⓇ Delux plan, which provides credit and dark web monitoring. The service alerts you if there is suspicious activity on your credit report; if your personal information is being bought, sold, or traded on illegal online markets; and if you post something on select social media that could put you at risk for identity fraud or potentially damage your reputation.