The theme of identity theft is incredibly prevalent. Data is simply too easy for criminals to steal from unsuspecting individuals.

It’s become normal for newspapers and media outlet websites to announce that thousands of people have had their identifying information stolen. Movies like Melissa McCarthy’s Identity Thief make light of this serious problem.

You may have even been one of the 17.6 million U.S. residents who was a victim of identity theft in 2014.

Protecting yourself from identity theft has become even more important than it’s ever been.

What is Identity Theft?
The first step to understanding how identity theft works is to familiarize yourself with what it involves.

In its simplest form, identity theft is the act of one person pretending to be another. This can be done in many ways, including everything from using someone’s name to altering a person’s fingerprints.


The earliest recorded instance of identity theft is recorded in the 25th chapter of Genesis. Jacob tricked his father into giving him everything his firstborn brother Esau was meant to have. This meant everything his father owned, which included his property and his livestock.

Modern identity theft is more insidious and high tech. Thieves can use one sensitive detail from your life, such as your social security number, together with publicly available information, like your name and address, to acquire your property, to secure credit cards, and even to steal money from your bank account.

Understanding Offline Identity Theft
The headlines in newspaper and television shows often talk about online identity theft, but offline identity theft is far more prevalent. The 2015 Identity Fraud Study found that only 15 percent of identity theft occurred online.

While this doesn’t mean you can neglect your online security, it does highlight how important it is to protect yourself both online and offline.

The typical offline thief will steal wallets and purses, break into cars and homes, steal discarded documents from unsecured dumpsters, and burglarize businesses to acquire the details they need to steal a person’s identity.

Some identity thieves may take things one step further than simply acquiring your information. They may steal your checkbook to write forged checks, withdraw money from your checking account, or open new lines of credit in your name.

Preventing Offline Identity Theft
Protecting your offline identity requires your diligence about how you store what information. Simply making yourself less of a target may be enough to persuade identity thieves to pass you up.

Below are some tips to keep yourself safe from fraud offline:

  • Secure your wallet and purse. Leave your social security card, your passport and anything nonessential documents at home.
  • Lock important certificates and documents inside a safe or other secure place. Prefer mechanical locks over electronic locks, as the latter can be more susceptible to attacks.
  • Secure your snail mail. Routinely retrieve your mail. Ensure that important documents that contain your signature or other identifying information, such as outgoing bill payments, are dropped into a locked mailbox or at the local post office.
  • Dispose of documents with sensitive details securely. Cross-pattern shredding, splitting shredded documents into multiple bags of trash, and cutting up old credit cards are great ways to make offline identity theft much harder.
  • Report lost or stolen checks, credit cards, debit cards and documents immediately. Hoping for these to “turn up” is often more dangerous than paying the small fee required to replace them.
  • Don’t trust phone calls. Legitimate businesses and organizations will not ask for personal details over the phone. If you’re in doubt on a call you’ve received, hang up and call the number of the company from a bill or their website.

Understanding Online Identity Theft
The reason online identity theft affects as many people as it does is because we’re used to sharing our personal information online. Things like a name, an email address and passwords can be enough to steal your identity.

Realizing that not everyone is your friend or can be trusted is an important part of staying safe online.

When identity thieves aren’t collecting the details of your life that you’ve shared online, they’re using even more targeted attacks. They may phish for your details with emails seemingly from your bank or utility company. They may present fake websites that look like real ones in so-called pharming attacks.

They may pretend to be a family member, friend or co-worker. They may even breach one of these accounts in the hopes of getting to yours.

The most obvious targets for online identity theft are people who do not expect it. That’s why critical thinking is your strongest form of defense.

Protecting Your Online Identity
Keeping your identity safe online is much like protecting it offline; you need to worry about how you handle your personal data. The fact is that most people are so lax with information about themselves when online, that ‘assembling’ a profile is very simple for identity thieves.

Below are some tips for keeping yourself safe while online:

  • Validate the website or person contacting you. Your bank, for example, likely does not use a address like “”, nor does your grandmother likely need your bank account information to deposit an inheritance. Websites with valid SSL certificates can also help you validate them.
  • Use strong, unique passwords for each login. Case-sensitive passwords using 8 or more characters in a unique pattern are much more secure than “dog”, “123” and “password”. You should seriously consider a password manager software.
  • Don’t install software you don’t trust. Some software can be malicious software, a keylogger, designed to log keystrokes, which in turn can give thieves access to every detail you wish to keep private.
  • Critically examine everything. Be careful about the details you make public while online. If something sounds too good to be true, it likely is an attempt to steal your identity or your money.
  • Make sure you don’t share too much information over social media.

Someone Stole Your Identity: Now What?
If your identity has been stolen, then it is very difficult to protect yourself from the monetary theft, damage to your credit and potential loss of your benefits. Act immediately!

Your best bet is to try limit the damage while recovering from the damage caused.

You should first report any stolen documents, cards and details to the appropriate places. Contacting the social security administration, your bank and any organizations related to the data you lost should be a priority.

Your bank can, for example, help you block unauthorized charges or reverse them. This can significantly limit the your financial responsibility for charges you haven’t made.

If you suspect that certain actions are being taken against you, then you should involve the police. This can further protect you from the damage that thieves can create.

You should then begin building evidence that your identity was stolen. This will help you mitigate the potential lawsuits and other harmful legal actions that may happen to you as the result of identity fraud.

The last step is to begin recovering. Employing safer practices with regards to your personal data will significantly reduce the chances of becoming a future victim of identity fraud.

Being paranoid can be helpful when it comes to keeping your identity safe. It helps you realize that thieves may be able to misuse even the most innocent of details.

The thing to understand, however, is that you shouldn’t shut yourself off from the rest of the world to protect your identity. You just need to think carefully about what information you share, how you keep your sensitive documents, and how to make yourself less of a target for identity theft.

About the author

Gabriel is a tech enthusiast who wants to share his experience and knowledge. He wants his passion to become yours and appreciates your support. Follow him @Gabemich1337.