Do you think you can tell when someone is trying to steal your identity? In some cases it is harder than you think. You need to know the who, what, when, where and why of identity theft before you can spot that it’s happening to you.
Approximately 18 million people or 7% of all U.S. residents 16 years of age or older were victims of identity theft in 2014, according to a US Department of Justice study. Of the victims, 58% were between the ages of 35 and 64. Females were victims more than males and 75% of the victims were Caucasian. Approximately 40% of victims had household income of $75,000 or more. What does this tell you? Fraudsters go where the money lives.
What gets stolen? The majority of identity theft victims (86%) experienced the fraudulent use of existing account information, such as credit card or bank account information. Somehow the fraudsters are getting your information and using it to steal from you. Later you will find out how they are doing that and what you can do to prevent it. Can you guess what state identity theft is most prevalent? Which state has approximately 20% of residents 65 years of age or older? You guessed it, Florida. Much of Florida’s identity theft includes benefit fraud that includes social security benefit fraud. Don’t be that guy/gal giving out personal information when someone asks for it.
Here is a laundry list of some of the preventative and risk reduction techniques that may one day save you from identity theft. Doing everything below won’t completely provide complete certainty that your identity won’t be stolen but it does reduce the risk and give you a fighting chance to not become a victim and a statistic in the study used above.
- Secure mobile devices – update software when popups appear, use security features such as biometric (fingerprint) protection when available
- Monitor your accounts and money daily – use online access
- Use strong passwords – consider password manager to organize all of your passwords
- Sign up for account alerts – text and email alerts are great to find identity theft quickly
- Avoid public Wi-Fi when using online bank and credit card access, make sure it is a secure network before logging into accounts
- Don’t carry your social security card on you
- Never give you social security number just because someone asked – ask if you can use an alternative ID
- Keep all paper personal information at home in a safe
- Check your credit report at least once a year – use annualcreditreport.com
- Review your social security administration earnings statement when you receive it in the mail – if it’s not accurate call the administration
- Protect computers, laptops and tablets by using firewalls, anit-spam and virus software
- Never give personal information over the phone, internet or mail unless you initiated the contact
- Limit the number of credit and debit cards that you carry
- Shred junk mail and old personal information
- Never respond to text messages from persons you don’t know
- Never click on email links from persons you don’t know – try to go directly to the website and search for the link
- Use common sense. If it doesn’t seem right – don’t do it.
The time and effort to help reduce the risk with the techniques above is far less then the time and effort it will take to undo what the fraudster did with your personal information. I would recommend following at least a handful of the items above so that you don’t fall victim.