Welcome to NerdWallet’s Smart Money podcast, where we usually answer your real-world money questions.

This week’s episode is focused on Axton Betz-Hamilton, author of “The Less People Know About Us: A Mystery of Betrayal, Family Secrets, and Stolen Identity.” In addition to talking about her book, Betz-Hamilton chats with personal finance Nerd Kim Palmer about how people can keep themselves safe and recover if they do become the victim of identity theft — even if it’s perpetrated by family members. Betz-Hamilton says an important first step is acknowledging how widespread the problem is and then taking steps to guard your privacy.

Check out this episode on any of these platforms:

Our take

Identity theft — where someone uses another’s personal information for their own gain — is, unfortunately, rampant. According to the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft has been growing steadily over the last two decades, with over 1.4 million reports in 2021. 

However, you can take steps to lower your risk. Some good places to start are: freezing your credit; keeping personal details about yourself private and offline; and being wary of emails and other messages that ask for sensitive data or try to get you to click on a link. It’s also helpful to frequently scan your banking statements, mail and credit reports for any suspicious charges or new accounts. 

Identity theft protection services can offer additional assistance. In fact, you may already have access to free protection through your financial institution, employer, credit card issuers, membership organizations — or because a data breach exposed your personal information. 

If you do find yourself the victim of identity theft, it’s important to report the crime. The FTC’s reporting portal lays the groundwork to get fraudulent accounts taken off your credit reports and avoid collections. You can also get resources such as a checklist for recovery. 

Our tips

  • Keep your personal information private. When you share your date of birth, pet names and other personal details online, thieves can use that information to steal your identity. Take care when sharing information about yourself online, including on social media. 
  • Consider placing a credit freeze for yourself and your children. Freezing your credit through the three major credit bureaus (TransUnion, Experian and Equifax) prevents the credit check required for opening most accounts, which hampers fraudsters. When you want to apply for a new line of credit yourself, you’ll have to take the extra step of unfreezing your credit temporarily. Freezing and unfreezing is free.
  • Be aware of common avenues for identity theft. Phishing attacks — when you receive a fraudulent email or other message that looks like it came from a trusted source such as your bank — are increasingly sophisticated. Be wary of any message requesting information from you. If you are unsure, call the source (such as your bank) directly, or check its main website for information there rather than clicking on a link you were sent.

Have a money question? Text or call us at 901-730-6373. Or you can email us at podcast@nerdwallet.com. To hear previous episodes, go to the podcast homepage.