New technology comes along daily to disrupt and enhance our lives. Unfortunately, new technologies also give attackers something new to focus on. In the modern digital age (especially with people constantly sharing and posting personal information), identity theft has become a growing concern. In identity theft, attackers steal confidential data, like names, credit card numbers, social security numbers, bank accounts, etc. They might sell the information, make fraudulent purchases, open new accounts, or sell the data on the dark web. Battling identity theft is like getting past the Balrog without Gandalf's help. It's nearly impossible. But thanks to modern security software, some essential safeguards, and some common sense, you can keep your personal information safe online. Here's how:

What Causes Identity Theft?

Although the terrifying concept of having your identity stolen can cause some mental distress, understanding its root causes is part of fighting back. Identity theft occurs in several different ways. According to Experian (one of the major three credit bureaus), identity theft has many common causes. Some of it can happen in real-time: a person steals a wallet, finds a credit card, steals a phone, or installs a skimmer at a point-of-sale system. But others can be far more malicious. Data breaches, which most often occur when an evil actor/hacker successfully infiltrates or attacks an organization's cyber infrastructure, usually result in tons of data being stolen. And the data is more than just simple things like buying habits or browsing history. It's credit card numbers, social security numbers, names, addresses, and other personal identification details. Sometimes, identity theft occurs through visiting unsecured websites. Some websites don't use HTTPS protocols and are loaded with malware. Inputting sensitive information into these sites can lead to thieves stealing it. It's like leaving your car on, with the doors unlocked, while running into a store for a few minutes. At that point, you're asking thieves to steal your data. Sometimes, malware is designed specifically to steal data. And then there's the Dark web, a repository of websites that regular browsers can't access, that also contain marketplaces where personal data is a prized commodity.

Shred Documents

Some of the best ways to defend against identity theft are not digital. Take the case of shredding documents and ripping up old mail. Identity thieves tend to look through dumpsters, garbage cans, and other waste disposal units. To them, someone's mail trash truly is a treasure. They can use any documents that contain personal or financial information to their advantage. When you shred documents before disposing of them, you eliminate any information identity thieves can retrieve. The mere act of shredding documents significantly decreases your chances of falling victim to identity theft. Even The Federal Trade Commission takes a firm stance on the importance of shredding documents, offering a priority order and guidance on its website. Sales receipts, ATM receipts, credit card statements and offers, utility bills, and bank statements should all be shredded right away. Doing so is a useful preventative measure and a good place to start in the war on identity theft.

Do A Credit Freeze

Whenever a breach occurs at a significant company, the company typically offers identity monitoring and protection. This usually involves access to credit monitoring services and an antivirus program. But a credit freeze can be a significant deterrent for identity theft. Doing a credit freeze prevents anyone from accessing your report or opening new accounts in your name. All three major credit bureaus make it easy to apply and disable a freeze, ultimately enabling you to take more control over your credit at any time.

Use Online Security Software

Sometimes, the best defenses come in comprehensive security packages. Using online security software has plenty of benefits. The software can detect and stop malicious software (malware) and viruses from getting onto your system. They can also help guard against phishing, social engineering, viruses, and potential identity theft. Premium software packages usually contain a firewall, antivirus, VPNs, and many other features to keep you safe across multiple devices. Security software is also easy to install, simple to use, inexpensive, and won't bog down your system. Look for software with identity theft protection tools and services that help you monitor for possible identity theft or compromise.

Use Strong Passwords

Passwords are one of the first lines of defense for privacy and security online. Unfortunately, many people neglect to create high-quality passwords and go for the simplest ones they can remember. This is a bad idea for several reasons. First off, simple passwords are easy to guess. Second, they don't help keep you secure. The best passwords are either passphrases or longer ones that feature a blend of numbers, letters (upper and lower case), and symbols. But password security goes deeper than that. You must make them difficult to guess. Also, avoid using the same passwords for multiple accounts. Determine how you'll store and retrieve passwords. Using a password manager can be helpful here. Using multifactor authentication is also beneficial. Passwords can create more security for you, but only if they're strong, unique, and challenging to guess. So make sure you create strong passwords and do your best to avoid letting them fall into the wrong hands.