With more than 850 million (yes – million) records breached already, data breaches are an epidemic that isn’t likely to end anytime soon. If it feels like you’re hearing about a breach fairly regularly, you’re right, and at their current rate, that means that a new identity theft victim is attacked every two seconds. For over a year now, identity theft incidents have accounted for nearly half of all reported fraud crimes.
Here are some of the methods criminals use to commit identity theft against unsuspecting consumers:
- Unauthorized use or attempted use of credit and/or debit cards
- Unauthorized use or attempted use of checking account information
- Tax-related identity theft, in which a criminal attempts to gain access to your tax refund or Social Security payments
- Child identity theft, where criminals use a child’s Social Security number to obtain credit
- Medical identity theft, in which a criminal uses someone else’s insurance information to obtain medical care, prescription drugs or file payment claims
- Unauthorized applications for credit cards or loans via theft of mail or trash containing personal information, such as pre-approved credit card offers
There’s no shortage of ways in which criminals can use identity theft to benefit themselves. Identity theft not only allows criminals to get away with fraudulent activity, but it also wreaks havoc on its victims, costing them money, time, a damaged credit record, and potentially a damaged reputation, not to mention the frequent feelings of frustration and vulnerability that the discovery can create for victims.
You can, however, protect yourself against the growing threats of fraud. To avoid becoming a victim of identity theft, it’s up to you to consider measures to protect yourself and your financial well-being from identity theft crimes:
- Keep track of your financial records.
Organize your financial records in a way in which you have easy access to your account balances, account numbers and passwords, and creditor or bank contact information. By having thorough and up-to-date knowledge of every area of your finances, you can easily spot when something is off, giving you the ability to act quickly in the case of a suspected fraud attempt.
- Learn to protect yourself from in-person threats.
Shield the keypad when punching in your PIN code at the ATM. Shred all mail containing any personal information once you review it. Keep receipts for items you’ve purchased so that you can match the amount charged to your credit or debit card with the amount on the receipt. Collect your mail promptly, protecting it from would-be thieves. Never keep PIN codes on your credit cards or in your wallet or purse. Be aware of all of the different ways fraud can be committed and guard against vulnerability to the different types of identity fraud attacks.
- Use cyber-threat protection.
Install firewalls and anti-virus protection on your home computers. Create hack-proof passwords. Refuse unsolicited requests for personal information, such as Social Security numbers, online.
- Protect your children from identity theft.
Check annually for existing credit reports under their Social Security numbers. Any activity or existing credit report under a minor’s Social Security number could indicate fraud, since children aren’t able to apply for credit until they turn 18.
- Check your credit reports regularly.
At least once yearly, check your credit report to ensure that all information contained within it is accurate, and that there are no credit accounts listed on your report that weren’t obtained by you. If you suspect identity theft on your credit report, contact the three credit bureaus for further instructions on how to flag your account with a fraud alert.
- Report any suspected identity theft immediately.
If you discover your bank, credit card or Social Security accounts have been tampered with, contact local law enforcement immediately and contact the appropriate financial institutions to flag or close down your accounts before any further fraud can be committed.
With growing concerns about the steady increase in identity theft incidents (and the increasing tab of clean-up costs that they can require to correct), it’s not a bad time to re-think how you protect your information. Make sure you’re taking every precaution you can: who else will make your security more of a priority than you?
This article is provided for general guidance and information. It is not intended as, nor should it be construed to be, legal, financial or other professional advice. Please consult with your attorney or financial advisor to discuss any legal or financial issues involved with credit decisions.