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Five essential tools and services to protect your identity

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You've probably heard a lot about how you should protect your identity from thieves and scammers. After all, cybercriminals can commit ID fraud with just the barest set of information about you. But what can you do to prevent identity theft?

Start by making sure you use these tools and services to protect your identity from theft.

1. Identity theft protection and monitoring

Let's start with the most obvious solution: identity theft protection. What is it, where can you find it, and how much does it cost?

In most cases, identity theft protection is a feature bundled into bank accounts and credit cards. Providers will monitor your account for suspicious activity and contact you in the event of unusual spending.

You can also take the time to monitor bank and credit card statements - in paper or online - to ensure nothing is amiss. Some companies offer easy access to your credit agency to keep an eye out for any new credit applications in your name.

A great feature that has been introduced by banks and credit cards companies is SMS alerts. These can be configured so that you receive instant notification if your account goes overdrawn, or a maximum spend has been breached.

With all this in mind, you should, however, avoid ID fraud insurance. All this does is mitigate the expense of sorting the fallout from ID fraud - it doesn't reimburse your bank account or credit card. But as long as your identity theft was not caused by personal negligence, your bank will cover the cost of the fraud.

2. Secure authentication

Your identity can be stolen from a laptop, desktop, tablet, smartphone, even a smartwatch.

The solution? Be sure to set up secure authentication. This can be anything from a password or PIN code to thumb or fingerprint recognition. Clearly it depends on what device you're using and its limitations, but always choose the most secure option.

Avoid unlock shapes and gestures on phones and tablets, however. Finger grease can make it clear what the unlock gesture is, making this the least secure option.

In addition to securing how you access your devices, take the time to set up two-factor authentication wherever it is available. Once enabled, this prevents unauthorised access to your account by requiring more than just your password. This might be a one-time passcode generated by a mobile app, or a one-off emailed link.

With your login authentication secured, your ID has a better chance of staying out of the hands of hackers.

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3. A VPN

While wrongly considered a privacy and security solution for almost everything, there is one thing VPNs do well: they encrypt your data. If you regularly use public Wi-Fi, this is vital to prevent observation from password sniffers. Hackers use these to collect logins, passwords, and other transmitted data from unencrypted connections.

Encryption prevents a password sniffer from collecting any usable data.

So, be sure to use a VPN on any device you might use on a vulnerable network. This probably means your laptop, smartphone, and tablet.

If you're not using a VPN already, now is the time to start. Most VPNs support multiple devices and a subscription of under £10 a month.

  • Check out our complete list of the best VPN services

4. Antivirus and online security software

Every computer and mobile device you use should have antivirus software. While Windows might ship with on-board AV and malware software (Windows Defender) mobile devices are less secure.

At its best, online security software can detect dodgy websites, phishing links, and clean up malware from your PC or smartphone. What is the risk to your identity, though?

Well, emails claiming to be from a reputable bank that are really scammers trying to trick you into logging into a spoofed website is one key risk. That's a one-way trip to identity theft.

Similarly, you have the risk of malware installing keyloggers on your system. These tools record keystrokes as you type, recording usernames and passwords that hackers can then use to access your accounts. All they need to do is pick an account holding your personal details and your ID is theirs to steal.

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5. A password manager

Remembering multiple passwords is tough but it is vital for you to hold different passwords for every account. Many account breaches occur because the same password is used for email as, say Facebook, or PayPal.

Ending this behaviour will improve your security considerably, reducing the likelihood of identity theft. The way to remember all your passwords and keep them safe and secure is to remember just one. Saving your passwords in a password manager is the answer. Can't think of a password? Don't worry - password managers feature secure password generators.

With a password manager, a master password is used to provide access to the vault. This might be secondary to a thumb or fingerprint, depending on what device you're using.

Several password managers are available. LastPass is particularly reliable (see our LastPass review) and is also free to use. Also consider 1Password, and Keeper. Avoid the password manager built into the Chrome browser, however, as this isn't considered as secure.

Don't forget education, awareness and vigilance

If you're using these tools you have a good chance of avoiding identity theft. While nothing can stop your accounts from being stolen due to a corporate data breach, you've done everything you can to secure things are your end.

Or have you? Well, in terms of software and services, yes. But there is always more you can do. Start by being more aware of cybersecurity issues, just as you would stay up to date about neighbourhood crime. After all, we're all members of the digital neighbourhood. Be aware of new risks, and always double check what you're doing - especially when you're considering following a link in an email or text message claiming to be from your bank.

Cybercriminals will attack from any angle, using any media. Be ready for them.