It’s likely that you have heard about identity theft. Many people have either become victims or know someone who has fallen victim to identity theft. It’s pretty much everywhere. If you type “identity theft” into a Google search queue, you’re going to get somewhere around 100 million results. According to some experts there is an incident of identity fraud occurring about every three seconds. The actual number of incidents has risen by around a million just in the last year and the actual dollar amount which has been stolen has reached over $21 billion. Many erroneously believe they will not fall victim to ID theft, but it’s more likely than you’d like to believe.
Who is most susceptible to identity theft?
It may be surprising to some to find out that literally everyone is susceptible to having their identity stolen. This includes these groups:
- College Students
- The Elderly
- The Deceased
Children are typically a target because their social security number is pristine and they are an easy target since they do not have their credit checked often. The elderly are targeted because they are not likely to check their credit often either. This makes it easy for their information to be used fraudulently without being detected. College students are not likely to keep a regular track of their bank account activities, and do not monitor their credit card activity close enough as a general rule. They are also typically sharing too much information on social media and other online channels. Even the deceased are prime targets for identity theft. Each year about 2.5 million identities of deceased individuals are used to apply for credit services. Virtually anyone is susceptible to become a victim which is why it is so important to learn how to protect yourself and your information from thieves.
What happens if you are the victim of identity theft?
What would someone want to do with another individual’s personal information? There are a lot of things that they can do once they have your social security number and credit or bank information. The six most common results when an identity is stolen include:
- Using your credit card information to make purchases
- Opening charge accounts and making purchases in the victim’s name
- Opening bank accounts and forging checks
- Get a job and then files false tax information and returns
- Drain your savings or retirement accounts
- Provide your name as an alias if arrested
These are all very serious incidents and they can be very costly for the victim or their families. It can also have a negative effect on a person’s credit score and cause them to be denied for a loan or credit card. This can have a snowball effect that can take literally years to clean up.
7 Ways You can Prevent Identity Theft
Number 1 – Sign up with an identity theft protection company. There are companies like Credit Sesame that offer free ID protection and a free credit score; and there are companies like LifeLock that provides protection for a fee. While these do not guarantee you will never get your ID stolen, they do offer a secure level of protection and reduce the chances that you will fall victim.
Number 2 – Be careful what you share over social media websites. A consumer who does not know any better may put up too much personal information on social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. By setting your privacy settings at the highest possible level and not sharing identifying information like birthdates or your mother’s maiden name you can protect yourself.
Number 3 – Create passwords that are complicated. People do literally everything online today including most of their banking. All of your personal and financial information are protected by a username and a password. It’s important to select very strong passwords that are not easily cracked.
Number 4 – Be cautious with unsecured Wi-Fi connections. We all have multiple devices so that we can access the internet no matter where we are. However, it is not safe to use an unsecured network to visit some sites, especially sites that provide financial services. In order to protect yourself, don’t type your username or password in over an unsecured connection. It is visible to anyone who has access to the network.
Number 5 – Be careful with financial or sensitive documents. Even though it is becoming less likely for your physical documents to be stolen, it still pays to be careful with them. Always shred financial documents or those which contain information such as your birthdate or social security number. Paperwork that needs to be retained for tax or other purposes, should be secured where they are not generally accessible.
Number 6 – Use a reliable anti-virus and anti-malware software program. Using malware is increasingly used to steal financial information. There are several ways that malware can infiltrate a computer. Many download them unknowingly by clicking links or attachments that are designed to install the malware onto the computer. Once on the computer, it can hijack banking and financial information. Keep your anti-malware up to date will help prevent it from being uploaded onto your computer.
Number 7 – Closely monitor bank and credit accounts. Checking your accounts online frequently a very quick way to recognize unwanted activities on your accounts. You can easily spot a fraudulent purchase if you are watching your accounts daily. This alone may not prevent an incident, but it can help lessen the ill effects from an incident.
Help your friends prevent identity theft too by sharing on social media sites.
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