Identity theft is the criminal misuse of personal information — name, Social Security number, bank account codes and more – to illegally act in another person’s name. Scammers are constantly coming up with new ways to exploit their victims, with medical identity theft, tax theft and utility fraud as some of the fastest growing categories.

However, new-account fraud continues to be one of the most common ways that stolen ID information is used. That’s when a criminal opens a credit card, a bank account or a loan in someone else’s name.

Constant vigilance may be the only way to stay ahead of determined criminals in search of personal identity information. Here are some of the experts’ favorite tactics.

Freeze it

A credit freeze is the most effective method.  Placing a freeze prevents any access to your credit report until you remove it. That’s a headache when you want to lease a car or apply for a credit card, but it’s your very best defense against new-account fraud.  However, a freeze only works if you apply it to your records at all three major credit bureaus. And don’t overlook two new agencies that also monitor creditworthiness: the National Consumers Telecommunications and Utilities Exchange, which tracks your payment history with phone, cable and power companies; and Innovis, an industry up-and-comer.

Track itSet up strict alerts on all cards and bank accounts.  Every time there’s any action over $1, get an alert.  “Is it annoying?  Maybe but you have to be proactive.If a charge looks unfamiliar, don’t hesitate — call your bank or credit card company immediately.  There are no bad consequences to overreacting when it comes to your identity.

Review it

Check your credit report religiously. By law, you can get one free copy from each credit bureau every year.  If you haven’t looked at your credit report in more than three years, pull all of them at once to establish a baseline.  Next year, stagger it — pull a different one every few months.”

Watch for changes to basic elements, like your address, and confirm that all listed accounts are legitimate. Scan the report for “hard inquiries” — information requests from credit-granting entities — that you did not authorize.

Consider checking other reports about yourself too.  Every year request a Social Security report.  People can be dipping into your account without you knowing it.

Destroy it

“Your best friend is a shredder.  The number one way people get snagged is right at home, when they toss their bills and bank statements into the trash.  A micro-cut machine, which transforms paper into a pile of confetti, can be purchased for as little as $50.

Defend it

Sign up for online access to your bank account — even if you never plan to use it.  If you don’t claim your account’s unique internet link (through the IP address that identifies your computer or other device on a network), you are essentially leaving the back door unlocked. A criminal who has your personal data can break into your account by setting up online account access.

Shield it

A wealth of personal information sometimes hides in plain sight. The QR code on an airplane boarding pass, for instance, has your home address, information about your flights, and very often your frequent flyer information.  If they get access to your account, they can use your miles to buy flights. If they know your travel plans, they also know when you’re not home.

People throw [boarding passes] onto the floor at the airport, they take pictures of them and post them to Instagram. Don’t do this.

You need to make yourself less attractive to an identity thief.  If you’re a harder target, who’s the bad guy going to go after?”

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