Identity theft is a pervasive problem. According to figures from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 17.6 million people, or about 7 percent of U.S. residents age 16 or older, were victims of at least one incident of identity theft in 2014. Identity theft is not just a problem within U.S. borders, either.
Victims may be subjected to various types of identity theft. Attempted misuse of an existing account is the prime complaint. This account can be a credit card, bank account or phone or utility account. No matter the type of fraud perpetrated, many identity theft victims endure a direct financial loss as a result.
Sometimes individuals do not find out they’ve been the victim of identity theft until they are notified by a financial institution – or even after filing their taxes – when money already has been lost. People may invest in expensive services to protect their identities, but Consumer Reports notes this tactic is not always necessary. There are other, less expensive ways for men and women to protect themselves from identity theft.
• Guard personal information. Do not share your personal information over the Internet unless you are on a secured site. This will be identified by the https:// preceding the rest of the URL. Sometimes a padlock symbol will appear somewhere on the page. Also, do not provide any personal information over the phone, such as tax identification numbers, bank account information or your maiden name. Personal data should be shared only with trusted companies whose authenticity you can verify.
• Watch your wallet. Do not leave your wallet or purse unattended. Keep the bare minimum in a wallet so a thief does not have access to all of your personal information if the wallet is lost or stolen. Keep your Social Security card and rarely used credit cards at home.
• Sign up for alerts. Many financial institutions will offer free online or mobile alerts to warn of suspicious activity on your account. Take advantage of this service.
• Lock down devices. Make sure computers and mobile devices are secured with a password, and only use secured networks when going online. Select strong passwords that include a combination of numbers, letters and symbols, as well as case changes so they will be more difficult to crack.
• Get off of credit-card offer lists. You can stop credit bureaus from selling your name to lenders by going to www.optoutprescreen.com or calling 888-567-8688. Opting out should prevent the majority of offers from coming your way. Many identity theft cases can be linked to crooks stealing credit card preapprovals from mailboxes. Similarly, you can put a security freeze on credit reports, so that lenders will not be able to access credit reports and issue new credit.
Identity theft can lead to plenty of paperwork hassle and loss of funds. Preventing it from happening is easier than you might think.