Your Private Information Could be at Risk
In 2016, 10% of Americans over the age of 16 reported being victims identity theft. That’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 and a half million people. For some of those, the violation included the use of their private information, like their social security number or their name. For others, their identity, credit score, and money were stolen. In 2016 that number was $16 billion. This is a real problem that’s not going away anytime soon. So let’s look at how it happens and what we can do.
The Cost of Identity Theft
In 2018, $16.1 billion dollars were stolen from American citizens using various methods of fraud and identity theft. Identity theft is big business! In addition to what was stolen from them, victims spent an average of $500 to repair the damage caused by identity theft.
More Than Money Is at Stake
Depending on the extent of the theft, victims also reported experiencing moderate to severe emotional distress as they worked toward restoring their identities. The average time spent resolving issues caused by the thefts was 2 to 9 hours, with 6% of victims reporting spending as much as 240 hours trying to restore their identity and recoup their losses.
How Does Identity Theft Happen?
The criminals who steal personal information from Americans are incredibly skilled at what they do, so the threat can come from more than one direction. The most common methods of identity theft include:
- A data breach happens when an individual gains access to information stored securely by a company or organization. This can expose many unknowing victims to identity theft.
- Phishing allows a criminal to gain access to an individual computer by tricking the owner into clicking on a link or opening an attachment that was sent over email.
- By stealing mail, identity thieves can sometimes get ahold of social security numbers, bank account numbers, and other private information.
- Unfortunately, some cases of theft are linked to personal and professional relationships such as when individuals have access to the homes or computers of the victim.
Protecting Yourself From Identity Theft
Okay so it’s obvious, but being aware is the first step to anything, right? Then wariness. Don’t get all paranoid, but be wary and take steps even when others say it’s overkill. Try these:
- All mail containing personal details should be shredded, not thrown away or recycled.
- Private documents should be stored away from the eyes of friends and family and social security cards should be kept at home, not in a wallet or purse.
- Credit and debit card accounts should be set up to alert you if something isn’t right. For example, a call to your credit company is all it takes to set a limit on daily spending or ask for alerts if your account is used outside the region where you live.
The online world should be approached with caution, especially when it comes to sharing personal information. Consider these:
- Don’t open links from anyone you don’t know or from a source you do know but which you didn’t ask for. (Don’t click “verify your email” links unless you asked for it from that site).
- Before making a purchase online, ensure the website uses encryption to protect private information — look for the “https” in the web address.
- We should all be choosing strong passwords by now. If you can’t, use a password manager that stores them and lets you remember one super password.
- Heavy social media use is associated with an increased risk of fraud so being careful about what is shared online, keeping accounts private and using social media passwords that do not match passwords associated with financial accounts could help mitigate this risk.
You are monitoring your credit report, right? If you feel that you’re at risk, apply identity theft protection to your credit report and bank accounts. There are services that will monitor everything for you, but for most of us, being cautious is enough, as long as we’re consistent.
Just be aware; be wary; be consistent in the steps you take. One and done doesn’t cut it in a world where thieves are watching for the opportunity to take advantage.