Identity theft is a pervasive problem. According to figures from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 17.6 million people, or about seven per cent 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. Each month, Equifax and TransUnion credit bureaus report that more than 1,800 identity theft complaints are lodged by Canadian residents.
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.
Be a careful shopper
It’s safer to swipe your own card during transactions than it is to allow a cashier to do it for you. If you must hand over your card, never lose sight of it. Always shield yourself when using an ATM or a PIN pad. Memorize all personal identification numbers. Never write them on the cards or leave them in your wallet.
Watch your bills
Know your billing cycles for credit and debit cards. Periodically check your credit reports, bank and credit card statements and report any irregularities to the relevant financial institution and to the credit bureaus.
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. It’s also wise to change your passwords regularly.