Identity Theft: Not If, but When

Close up of magnifying glass on ID fraudOne in 10 Americans has been a victim of identity theft or identity fraud.

The FTC reports that identity theft continues to be the #1 complaint by consumers, and has been for the past 13 years.

  • The number of reported instances of identity theft was 12.6 million in 2012, up from 11.6 million in 2011.
  • The cost of ID fraud in 2012: $20.9 Billion.
  • At the end of 2012, 650,000 identity theft cases within the IRS remained unsolved.

Those of us in South Carolina are especially aware of the increased probability that identity theft will happen to us. Although the State has provided a free one-year subscription to a credit alert service, chances are these criminal hackers will patiently wait a few years until defenses are down before selling the data they stole last year. Victims of the data breach will also receive free lifetime ID theft resolution.

Many (not all) credit monitoring services do little more than shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted. A “credit monitoring service” does exactly that: It monitors changes to your credit report and notifies you when there’s been a change.

Identity theft goes far beyond stealing financial information to obtain credit, and gain access to bank accounts. Other kinds of identity theft include:

  • Social Security – Obtaining benefits such as retirement, disability or Medicare
  • Insurance – Filing for benefits under your health or other insurance
  • Medical – Using your identity to obtain health care, prescriptions, etc.
  • Criminal – Using your identity while committing criminal acts
  • Driver’s License Fraud – Using information from your driver’s license to create fake IDs; or presenting your credentials after committing a traffic violation
  • Child Identity Theft – Using a child’s social security to create an identity with a clean credit history
  • Employment Fraud – Obtaining a job using your good name, or filing a false tax return with the IRS
  • Synthetic – Thieves combine real and fake information to create a brand new and different identity. Synthetic fraud makes up 80-85% of all identity fraud.

What you can do to reduce the chances your ID will be stolen

The United States Department of Justice recommends remembering the word SCAM:

S – Be stingy about giving out your personal information to others unless you have a reason to trust them, regardless of where you are

CCheck your financial information regularly, and look for what should be there and what shouldn’t

AAsk periodically for a copy of your credit report

MMaintain careful records of your banking and financial accounts

Protect more than just your financial information. USA Today reports that identity thieves look for specific pieces of information:

  • User names, passwords and PIN numbers.
  • Social Security numbers.
  • Phone and utility account numbers.
  • Bank and credit account numbers.
  • Employment and student identification numbers.
  • Driver’s license and passport numbers.
  • Professional license numbers.
  • Insurance identification numbers.
  • College or university financial-aid form information. 

The American Bar Association also includes protecting your mother’s maiden name — one of the most prevalent pieces of information used to protect online accounts.

Reclaiming your identity

Reclaiming your stolen identity can take years and run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Federal Trade Commission  provides a comprehensive checklist of things you should do as soon as you learn your identity has been stolen, including forms that should be filed. Immediately, you should take these steps: 

  • Place an initial fraud alert
  • Order your credit reports
  • Create an Identity Theft Report

Many insurance companies now provide identity theft resolution services. Review your insurance policy to see if you’re covered, and what the company will do to assist you. Financial institutions also provide resolution assistance.

Make protecting your identity a daily priority

There are simple things you can be doing every day to protect your identity from these common methods of identity theft.

  • Dumpster Diving –  Shred, shred, shred. Office supply stores will also offer shredding, for a fee (pennies per pound). Banks and credit unions will sponsor free shredding days. Invest in a cross-cut shredder for your home office. Shred everything.
  • Shoulder Surfing – Be aware who is around you when you use the ATM, or swipe your card at stores. Cover your hand when you enter your PIN. 
  • Mailbox Cruisers – Don’t leave your mail overnight in the mail box. Mail your bills at the post office or other official post box. If you are leaving on vacation, put a Vacation Hold on your mail though the postal service,  or ask a relative or really trusted neighbor to collect your mail daily. 
  • Internet Cafes – Whether the internet cafe is at a bookstore, library, or coffee shop, remember you are on a public network. Any confidential information you provide online can be hijacked. Don’t check your bank account, pay bills online or make online purchases when you are using a public network. 
  • Physical Theft – Carry as few bank cards and credit cards as necessary. Do not carry your social security card. Your social security card should never be used as a form of identification. 
  • Compromised Computers – Encrypt any financial information you store on your computer or in online (cloud) storage. Create loooong passwords. 

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Technology & Media Manager, DPP 

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