The Fastest Growing Crime in America: ID Theft
Every year, approximately 15 million people have their identities stolen with financial losses totaling around $50 million. This means that almost 7 percent of adults experience identity theft and lose approximately $3,500. With increased storing and sharing of your information online and the increasing sophistication of identity thieves, your personal information may be at risk. Here’s what you need to know about identity theft as well as some tips to avoid becoming a victim.
Identity Theft 101
There are many types of identity theft and ways that criminals can find and use your personal information. Some of the most common types are credit, medical and tax theft, all of which can cause you a major headache and problems in the future with credit reports, health insurance and the law.
Even though there is a lot of attention given to online identity fraud, your personal information can be stolen in many other ways. Dumpster diving, stolen wallets, stolen mail, customer call scams and phishing schemes are still common ways for criminals to get the information they need.
What Can You Do to Prevent ID Theft?
There are several easy steps you can take to help prevent identity theft in-person and online. Here are some recommendations from USA.gov you should follow:
- Keep your important documents (social security card, birth certificate, passport) in a secure place and don’t carry them on you unless necessary
- Don’t let your mail pile up; put it on hold if you’re not going to be home for several days
- Shred physical papers with your information on them (receipts, mail, bank account statements, bills)
- Keep track of your bills and contact the sender if they are late or the information is incorrect
- Check your credit report at least once a year or if you suspect a problem
- Beware of phishing scams and don’t respond to unsolicited requests for your information
- Create complex passwords that don’t contain personal information and change them regularly
- Use firewalls, malware protection and anti-virus software on your computer and smartphone
- Guard your passwords, PINs and codes from shoulder surfers if you’re using a device in public
What Happens if Your Identity is Stolen?
Unfortunately, you can do everything right and still become a victim of identity theft. If you think this has happened to you, the United States Department of Justice makes the following suggestions:
- Change your logins, usernames, passwords, PINs and access codes for all of your accounts, not just the one with fraud
- Contact one of the three credit bureaus to place a fraud alert
- Report the fraud to the company where it occurred, and ask them to freeze the account
- Report the fraud to IdentityTheft.gov to help create a recovery plan
- File a police report to have them investigate
At times, it can seem like identity theft is impossible to avoid. Hackers and criminals may find new and creative ways to collect information, but companies and users also are becoming smarter. Use identity theft protection tools to keep your information safe, be smart about what you share with others and know what to do to get any problems solved as quickly as possible.
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