identity theft lessonsThe past year was a big one in the world of identity theft and information security. Millions of Americans saw their information exposed in more than one breach, and most people probably have at least one or two notification letters from various companies to prove it. Between all of the data breach notifications and years upon years of complimentary identity theft protection and credit monitoring, there are certainly some important identity theft lessons that this past year taught us. Whether you were out of the loop or tuned in, there are several key points that can hopefully help people navigate the ever-changing personal security climate. Here’s what 2015 taught us about identity theft:

1. Freezing your credit is no longer viewed as an extreme step. In the past, placing a credit freeze on your files was considered a drastic step, mainly used as a last measure in cases of significant identity theft. Unfortunately, as identity theft has become more commonplace, experts are now urging all consumers to place a credit freeze before identity theft happens as a preventative measure. Unlike a fraud alert, which lasts for 90 days and can be placed with all three credit bureaus simply by calling one of them and making the request, a credit freeze lasts until you ask for it to be lifted and must be performed with each individual credit bureau. It’s important to plan carefully if you place a credit freeze so you can make sure it’s temporarily (or permanently) lifted when the time comes that you want to apply for a loan or open a credit card.

2. Children are equally at risk for being identity theft victims as adults. Between data breaches at major healthcare companies as well as companies that primarily serve children and their families, such as VTech, those under 18 were proven to be no more safe from identity theft than adults. What’s worse, because many parents don’t think about the potential for their children’s identities to be misused, this type of identity theft can be much harder to discover until it’s too late. Nothing could be worse than coming of age and discovering your theoretically pristine credit is actually in ruins. It’s important to guard your child’s information and consider placing a freeze on their credit files or signing up for a kid-friendly identity theft protection service like TrustedID that can help with monitoring and notifying you of any fishy activity with their data.

3. The elderly remain lucrative targets for scammers of all kinds. It’s not groundbreaking news that older citizens are frequent targets of phone and email scams, but the way scammers operate has evolved to even more insidious heights. One scam that surged in 2015 was the grandparent scam, which has criminals calling elderly people and pretending to be someone they know — usually a young relative like a grandchild — and using information gleaned from Internet research to try and con them into wiring money. Family members of the elderly, as well as older people themselves, need to take precautions to avoid falling victim to the many scams that target their demographic specifically. Although legislation has been drafted to offer added legal protections to seniors in the U.S., the best chance people have is taking matters of protection into their own hands.

4. The U.S. government is just as vulnerable as retailers. Although we’ve grown used to breaches at restaurant chains, big box retailers like Home Depot and Target, 2015 showed that nobody is safe — not even the government. In addition to breaches within the IRS that saw $50 million in fraudulent tax returns stolen by Russian hackers and over 600,000 taxpayers’ records accessed with previously-stolen data, the federal government is still wiping the egg off its face after the disastrous breach within the Office of Personnel Management that exposed millions of Americans. Fortunately, the government is now taking security far more seriously, going so far as to pass the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) through both the House and the Senate. Although some have criticized the bill for not actually doing anything to prevent data breaches, hopefully this is a step toward more solutions and action being taken in the year to come to combat what is quickly becoming a national security issue.

5. And so is the healthcare industry. As if all of the government breaches weren’t scary enough, numerous health insurance companies suffered massive data breaches this past year. The Anthem breach announced at the beginning of the year exposed a whopping 80 million Americans, including children, and other breaches with Premera Blue Cross and CareFirst exposed an additional 12.1 million. Security company Agari compiled data from 2014 to determine that the healthcare industry itself is at high risk for cyber attacks, something that proved all too true throughout 2015 and will likely continue to be a trend in the year to come. You can learn how to protect yourself against medical identity theft by reading this post.

6. Taking matters of protection into your own hands is more important than ever. Whether it’s requesting a credit freeze, thinking twice before sharing information on social media sites or purchasing items for your home such as a secure lock box for documents or a cross-cut shredder to destroy junk mail before throwing it in the trash, the most important lesson from 2015 when it comes to identity theft is that being proactive is necessary. The sad reality is, identity theft is not preventable. Most people will face it in some form, if they haven’t already. But despite this fact, you can take steps to limit the amount of damage an identity thief could cause. One of the most basic, yet powerful actions you can take is to monitor your bank and credit card statements as well as keep a close eye on your credit reports. You can do the former for free, and you can get help with the latter by signing up with an identity theft service like Identity Guard which offers regular updated credit reports and scores from all three credit bureaus. Visit our identity theft protection reviews to learn more about Identity Guard and the other top-rated identity theft protection services.

To learn more about protecting your identity and personal information online and off in the new year, follow our identity theft protection blog.