The Federal Trade Commission is commemorating Identity Theft Awareness Week with a series of free events focused on raising awareness and educating consumers about the growing risk of identity theft. The online events also offer advice on recovering and repairing your personal information after Identity Theft occurs. Of course, using an identity theft protection service that provides insurance to help recover those costs lost in the crime will greatly reduce the out-of-pocket cost due to Identity Theft.

What’s more, the risk of falling prey to identity thieves and how much money they can steal is skyrocketing! According to the FTC, consumers filed over 2.1 million fraud reports in 2020. Their total losses exceeded $3.3 billion — almost double the $1.8 billion lost to fraud in 2019.

So what is identity theft and, how can you protect yourself? Identity theft happens when someone uses your personal or financial information — like your Social Security or financial account number — to commit fraud. If your data is used to open an account, take out a loan or lease, file taxes, or apply for unemployment insurance or other government benefits, you may be the victim of identity theft.

Identity thieves can access your personal information in several ways ranging from sophisticated technological attacks to simply being at the right place at the right time. Using a personal credit monitoring service can alert you immediately to suspected identity theft.

These are seven of the ways the FTC says your personal data can land in the wrong hands, possibly leading to identity theft, and the best steps you can take to help protect your information:

Data breaches

Data breaches often make headlines, so this is one method you’ve likely heard about before. A data breach is any security incident in which information is accessed without the proper authorization. Most commonly, a breach is a deliberate cyberattack aimed at stealing personal information for fraudulent purposes and financial gain.

Online Shopping Fraud

The pandemic’s impact led to a surge in online shopping. By 2023, e-commerce will account for almost 22% of retail sales. Scammers exploit this growth by using fake websites, gift cards, and phishing emails and messages to deceive people into sharing their credit card information. A typical example is the phony delivery scam. Criminals send messages about delivery issues disguised as trusted courier services — like UPS or FedEx — in a bid to trick people into clicking a bogus link or sharing their details.

Card Identity Fraud

One of the more prominent types of fraud is when someone uses your debit or credit cards without permission. Once they have the essential details, they can purchase items in your name or make large transfers out of your account.

Elder Fraud

Senior citizens are at greater risk of identity fraud as many aren’t tech-savvy and live alone, making them open to scams. According to the FTC, consumers aged 80 and older lose more money to fraud than any other age group. One common type of identity fraud is ‘the grandparent scam,’ where criminals pretend to be a grandchild on a phone call to an at-risk elderly person. The scammers will try to coerce the target into sending money or sharing card details to help with some urgent problem.

Social Security Number Identity Theft

Your Social Security number (SSN) is the master key to your identity. Lose that, and you could lose everything. There were 147 million SSNs exposed when attackers breached Equifax in 2017, which caused widespread panic. If attackers get access to your SSN, they can reach your bank accounts, credit line, tax refunds, medical care, and more.

But it doesn’t take a data breach to lose your SSN. Thieves could get what they need from you by lifting your wallet, rifling through the trash, sending phishing emails, or even simply hearing you speaking on the phone.

Medical Identity Theft

Medical identity theft is whenever somebody uses your information, such as a Medicare number or SSN, to receive medical services or file a claim. If the thief’s health information is mixed with yours, it could affect the medical care you’re able to get or the health insurance benefits you’re able to use. It could also hurt your credit.

Tax Identity Theft

Tax identity fraud is when somebody uses another person’s sensitive financial information to file a tax return. The victim often won’t realize the scam has happened until they make their real tax return, only to discover that one has already been processed in their name. By that time, the thief had collected the refund and vanished.

The best line of defense in any of these cases is awareness. Knowing that anyone can be a victim of identity theft/fraud means everyone should be prepared. Here are some more ways to keep your money and personal information safe:

Protect documents that have personal information. Keep things with personal information — think financial records or Social Security and Medicare cards — in a safe place. Don’t share your Social Security number with someone who contacts you. While some organizations might need your Social Security number to identify you, they won’t call, email, or text you to ask for it. So if someone contacts you, asks you for your Social Security number and says they’re from the IRS, your bank, or your employer — it’s a scam.

Protect your information online and on your phone. If you’re logging in to an online account, use a strong password. Add multi-factor authentication for accounts that offer it. Multi-factor authentication makes it harder for scammers to log in to your accounts if they do get your username and password.

Review your bills. Charges for things you didn’t buy, or an unexpected bill, could be a sign of identity theft.

Utilize Identity Theft Protection! Identity theft protection makes it easier to spot an issue before it turns into an expensive problem. An identity theft protection service lets you know when suspicious activity, and your personal information may have been compromised. You receive an alert, so you can take steps to secure your accounts. Identity theft protection also includes credit monitoring to help you receive alerts if someone has taken out fraudulent debt or bills in your name.