Man using entering his credit card info into his cellphone.

Credit and Identity Theft Monitoring

Updated June 2, 2022 . AmFam Team

Credit monitoring and identity theft protection are two different ways to protect your personal information. Learn how to monitor and protect your credit.

Protecting your home with a security system and locking your doors when you leave for the day are measures you might take to protect your home from intruders. Credit and identity theft monitoring are a type of “security system” that protects you from intruders gaining access to your personal information. From credit fraud to identity theft, everyone is susceptible to these types of breaches — that’s why it’s so important to defend yourself against them.

Credit monitoring and identity theft protection are two different ways to proactively protect yourself if your personal information gets into the wrong hands. Let’s take a look at the differences and why it’s important to implement them both together.

What Is Credit Monitoring?

Think of credit monitoring as an early warning system that helps prevent additional damage. It involves a service that regularly checks your credit reports, and alerts you of any changes by phone, text or email. It’ll flag several types of activities:

  • Credit limit increases
  • If an authorized user is added to an account
  • If a credit card or loan application is submitted in your name
  • If a new credit card or loan is opened using your identity

This kind of defense gives you the chance to review the accuracy of any change on your credit report and take care of problems before they get out of hand. If you’re alerted and didn’t personally authorize or initiate the “transaction,” assume it’s evidence of identity theft and take immediate action to remedy the situation.

Your credit report affects you in many ways, especially when it comes to mortgage rates, credit card approvals and even apartment applications. Whether you choose a service to monitor your credit or opt to do it yourself, it’s important to have a line of defense in place. Learn about American Family’s exclusive partnership for credit monitoring services with CyberScout, the industry leader in identity and data defense.

How to Protect Your Credit

Monitoring your credit for identity theft helps protect your credit score. If you have a higher credit score, mortgage lenders will offer you lower interest rates, so you can buy property or refinance your home for cash. A good credit score also means better credit card options with benefits like bonus points, minimal fees, and zero or low interest rates. Credit cards, loans and private money lenders may not be available if your credit score drops below a certain level. Keeping an eye on your credit score ensures that you will maximize your savings and avoid long-term consequences.

Monitor your credit reports

You can always choose to monitor your credit on your own by checking your credit report. Did you know that you have access to one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies? If you check one every four months, you’ll be able to monitor your credit at no cost. Keep in mind that if you go this route, you won’t have any reminders or alerts, so you’ll need to be diligent about viewing and analyzing the reports.

Check out the three credit reporting agencies to order your reports — remember to stagger them every four months to avoid paying a fee:

Consider freezing your credit

If you see suspicious activity on your credit card statement or credit report, you can freeze your credit to prevent your identity from getting stolen. A credit freeze is a free service that stops new creditors from accessing your credit file and others from opening accounts in your name, until you lift the freeze. The first step you should take is to notify your credit card issuer by calling the number on the back of your card. Next, change your credit card login information including your username, password and PIN to prevent any further charges. After contacting your credit card company, continue to check your credit card statement and credit report for any new signs of fraud and make sure to dispute any unknown charges.

Place a fraud alert on your credit reports

Placing a fraud alert on your credit report forces creditors to verify your identity before issuing new credit in your name. This makes it harder for someone to open a new credit account using your identity.

What Is Identity Theft Fraud Protection?

To understand the importance of identity theft fraud protection, first let’s look at the definition of identity theft. Identity theft is a crime where someone takes your personal and/or financial information and uses it without your permission. They’ll use it to make transactions or purchases, obtain credit, services or benefits — anything for their financial gain.

How do people steal your information?

Identity thieves take advantage of technology and use everything from deceptive emails or text messages, social networking, digital public records, hacking into computers or networks, and using information-gathering malware — among other techniques.

American Family’s partnership with CyberScout also offers an identity theft protection service called LifeStages. Though this doesn’t necessarily stop your information from being stolen, LifeStages (Opens in a new tab) provides educational resources, 24/7 access to a CyberScout fraud specialist, proactive services, services to help resolve identity theft and document replacement.

Identity Theft Monitoring

Protecting your identity starts with you. Sure, having a monitoring and recovery service is helpful — but they’ll come in handy once someone has already breached your privacy. Practicing safe habits and taking proactive measures to protect your personal information are key to prevention. Follow these tips to help protect your identity.

Get Extra Protection from Identity Theft with American Family Insurance

If you’re a victim of identity theft, having an identity restoration plan in place is key to restoring your identity — and one way to do this is with identity theft insurance. Monitoring your credit or personal information and having identity theft insurance can give you peace of mind. Connect with your American Family agent (Opens in a new tab) to find out how you can add identity theft insurance to your homeowners or renters policy.

This article is for informational purposes only and based on information that is widely available. This information does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal or financial advice. You should contact a professional for advice specific to your situation.

This article does not afford or guarantee coverage.

This information represents only a brief description of coverages, is not part of your policy, and is not a promise or guarantee of coverage. If there is any conflict between this information and your policy, the provisions of the policy will prevail. Insurance policy terms and conditions may apply. Exclusions may apply to policies, endorsements, or riders. Coverage may vary by state and may be subject to change. Some products are not available in every state. Please read your policy and contact your agent for assistance.

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    How to Protect Your Identity

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    What Is Identity Theft?

    Identity (ID) theft is when highly sensitive, personal information about you or someone else has been wrongfully obtained by someone — usually a cybercriminal or hacker — without that person’s consent. The data is then used for the purpose of fraud or deception, as the hacker can use the stolen personal information to create an identity, often mimicking the person from whom the data was acquired. This false persona can be used to drain your bank accounts, gain illegal entry into your work or home computers and even for the purpose of loan applications.

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    How to Protect Your Data from Identity Theft

    Below are our quick tips on how to protect your identity. It’s time to take control of your privacy by putting these 11 simple ID protection tips into practice represent some of the best ways to protect your identity.

    1. Create strong passwords

    Thieves love easy username and password combinations because they are the keys to your personal information. By being a little more data security savvy, however, you'll make things much less easy for them! Try to use various passwords for different accounts, and include a mix of numbers, letters and symbols. Check out our tips on how to create a strong password that’s super secure and easy to remember!

    You might think your phone is a convenient place to keep track of your passwords, but in the event your phone is stolen, it’s best to keep your passwords elsewhere to avoid being a victim of identity theft. Instead, write them on a piece of paper and tuck them safely away.

    Alternatively, you can use a password management software or device that encrypts and safely stores your passwords. Although there can be a monthly fee, password management software are excellent tools to both protect your identity and keep track of your passwords. Some of the most popular password managers include LastPass, NordPass and RoboForm.

    2. Be smart about updating passwords

    You’ve probably heard you should update your passwords as frequently as you should change your toothbrush: about every three months. Lately, though, experts aren’t sure if that’s guaranteed to protect your identity since hackers are pretty savvy about clever password tricks. Pair that with their advanced hardware and software, and you may find that simply updating your password might not be enough.

    If you're trying to think of the best course of action, see tip number one and create a random password. Experts agree that if you have the slightest suspicion your identity and data might have been hacked, you definitely should change those passwords ASAP.

    3. Check your credit report

    Monitoring your credit report allows you to get a detailed look at your credit history. Once you get a copy of your credit report, which you’re entitled to a free copy of once a year from each of the three national credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), go over it thoroughly to see if any fraudulent transactions or accounts are listed. Getting a free copy once a year means you can get a free credit report every four months from one of the credit bureaus; just make sure you use a different bureau each time.

    If you do notice any debts that aren’t yours or accounts you didn’t open, follow these steps to report identity theft.

    4. Review your bank and credit card accounts

    Get in the habit of carefully looking over your bank and credit card accounts every month. If you notice any funny business, call your bank or credit card company right away.

    You can also set up fraud alerts to notify you when a suspicious purchase is made on your accounts. If you plan on going on vacation, call your bank to let them know where you’ll be — especially if traveling internationally — to avoid erroneous fraud alerts while you’re having fun.

    Keep an eye on the news for data breaches of banks, retailers, credit agencies and other companies that store customers’ personal information so you can act before a thief has a chance to use your data.

    5. Don’t over share on social media

    Feel free to post that picture of your fermented soybean sushi roll, but steer clear of posting any personal identifying information. Thieves are hunting social media for easy prey, and unassuming info like your email address, birth date and even your children’s names are used for scamming and identity theft.

    A lot of social media and email accounts also offer two-step verification, which requires the site to check with you if you log in from a new place. Sign up for this to further safeguard your accounts and personal information from identity theft.

    6. Shield your computer

    Keep personal and financial information secure on your computer with firewall, virus and spyware protection software. Just make sure you’re downloading these tools from a trusted source.

    To take personal data protection even further, you can install a virtual private network, or VPN, to further protect your information as it travels the internet. It can also hide your IP address, preventing scammers from tracking your data back to your personal network.

    7. Don’t take the bait

    Scam artists love to “phish,” which means they catch victims by pretending to be trustworthy sources like banks, stores, government agencies and so on. Most commonly, people phish others over the phone and through emails, but they’ll try to get you through regular mail, too.

    Legitimate companies don’t typically request information in this way, so don’t be afraid to ask questions when a business calls, and never give out your personal information over the phone or email.

    If you would like more tips on how to avoid phishing, we've collected a few to share.

    8. Safeguard your Social Security card

    Never give out your entire Social Security number (SSN) over the phone or online. Usually, a company will only ask for the last four digits of your SSN, so if someone asks for your full number, you should be wary.

    If you're a person who routinely carries your Social Security card in your wallet or purse, consider taking it out and storing it in a secure place for added safeguards and to protect yourself from identity theft if it falls into the wrong hands.

    9. Don’t leave a paper trail

    Identity thieves have no problem dumpster-diving for your personal info. Although this sounds like a silly way to collect personal information in the digital age, it happens more than you’d think! So, this begs the question: What can I do to protect my identity from dumpster-diving criminals? Here are a few ways you can keep your bank statements and other sensitive data from falling into the wrong hands:

    • Enroll in “paperless” billing with your bank. Most major banks offer the paperless option which is more secure and protects your data by eliminating the paper trail. No paper, no trail!
    • Invest in a paper shredder. If you want to ensure your sensitive printed documents are useless to dumpster divers, we recommend a micro-cut shredder. These shredders are just like older shredders, but rather than cutting documents into long strips, they shred them into much smaller “micro” bits.
    • Don’t write down passwords by hand. This is especially important if you work in a large office setting. It’s just too easy for anyone to snap a quick pic of your login credentials.

    10. Be aware of credit card skimming

    A “skimmer” is essentially a card reader that grabs the data off a card’s magnetic stripe, making it easy for a thief to create cloned cards or break into your bank account to steal money. These skimmers are designed to be small and inconspicuous, typically appearing like an ordinary piece of equipment. Always inspect the device you’re using your card with and pay close attention to catch any irregularities.

    In short, always keep an eye on your card or pay with cash when you can.

    11. Consider identity theft insurance

    Identity theft protection coverage helps you quickly and conveniently get back on track if you’re victimized by identity scammers. It’s a smart, simple and affordable way to financially recover and get support when you need it most, especially when it comes to contacting credit reporting companies, law enforcement, etc.

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