Are You At Risk For Identify Theft?
What is identity theft? Basically, it’s someone unlawfully using or trying to use an existing credit card or other existing account without the owner’s permission, the misuse of personal information to open a new account or for another dishonest purpose, or a combination of these types of misuse.
The security breach of retail giant Target was a wakeup call for all of us to be alert to the growing problem of identity theft.
Look at the damage caused by this growing problem:
|Identity Theft / Fraud Statistics
|Average number of U.S. identity fraud victims annually
|Percent of U.S. households that reported some type of identity fraud
|Average financial loss per identity theft incident
|Total financial loss attributed to identity theft in 2013
|Total financial loss attributed to identity theft in 2010
|Percent of Reported Identity Thefts by Type of Fraud
|Misuse of Existing Credit Card
|Misuse of Other Existing Bank Account
|Misuse of Personal Information
|States with the highest identity theft complaint rate
Victims Per 100,000
|States with the lowest identity theft complaint rate
Victims Per 100,000
Source: U.S. Department of Justice, Javelin Strategy & Research
You don’t have to be a victim. Here are things you can do now to keep you from becoming a victim of identity theft:
13 Steps to Avoid Identify Theft
- Watch what personal information you give out.
Do not give out personal information, such as account or credit card numbers, on the phone or over the Internet unless you were the one who began the contact. (Identity thieves could act as bank officials, Internet providers or credit card company representatives).
- Immediately report lost or stolen checks.
Closely look at new checks to be sure none were stolen during shipment, and keep them in a safe and secure place.
- Shred your stuff.
Shred unused financial offers and other business documents such as statements or receipts (including ATM receipts) before throwing them in the trash.
- Guard your mail.
Make sure your mailbox is locked, and don’t leave mail sitting in the box after it has been delivered. Identity thieves often hit residential mailboxes to steal credit card offers and financial statements. Note: Mail theft is a Federal crime with higher penalties; the U.S. Postal Service has its own investigative unit.
- Deliver checks to the bank.
When you order new checks, have them sent to your bank instead delivering them directly to your home.
- Don’t leave mail for pickup in your mailbox.
Take mail you’re sending to your local post office; don’t leave it in your mailbox. If you will be away from home for a several days, ask the post office to hold your mail.
- Guard your Social Security Number.
Give out your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary or when required by law.
- Only carry necessary documents with you.
Don’t carry extra credit cards, your Social Security card, birth certificate or passport in your wallet or purse, unless you need it.
- Copy your information.
Make copies of your credit cards, and record your bank and investment account numbers. Keep this information in a safe place, along with the telephone numbers for customer service or the fraud department for each, so you can quickly notify them if there’s a problem.
- Watch your credit statements.
Check your credit card billing cycles closely. Make sure you get your credit card bill every month— identity thieves may try to change your billing address.
- Don’t use easy-to-guess passwords.
Create passwords or PIN numbers out of a random mix of numbers and symbols or letters. When creating passwords or PIN numbers, do not use your birthday, pet names, the last four digits of your Social Security number, your mother’s maiden name or anything else that could easily be discovered by thieves.
- Install a firewall.
Install a firewall on your computer. And before getting rid of your old computer, remove data by using a strong “wipe” utility program. Don’t trust the delete function to remove files containing personal information
- Check your credit report
Review your credit report at least once a year to check for errors and fraudulent use of your account. Consumers can now get a free copy of their credit report annually. To order your free report, go to www.annualcreditreport.com or call 1.877.322.8228
Don’t forget to check your homeowners insurance policy – you may be able to get identity theft protection through your insurance company.
How you been the victim of identity theft? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below!