Identity Theft is the fastest growing crime in America. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 17.6 million Americas, 7% of U.S. residents aged 16 or older were victims of identity theft in 2014. Most victims (86%) experienced the misuse of an existing credit card or bank account. About 4% of victims had their personal information activity stolen and used to open a new account or for other fraudulent activity. Some victims (7%) experienced multiple types of identity theft during the most recent incident. These findings were similar to those published in 2012.
Your greatest asset for securing your good name is understanding where the thieves get your information. Here are a few of the many ways thieves can obtain your personal identifying information:
Protect your Social Security number, credit card numbers, account passwords and other personal information
Use common sense, and be suspicious when things don't seem right. Never divulge your information over the phone unless you initiated the phone call. If personal information is requested ask questions. It is your right to know why it's needed, how it will be used, and who needs it.
If you get an unsolicited offer that sounds too good to be true it probably is! If a caller claims to represent your financial institution, the police department or some similar organization and asks you to "verify" (reveal) confidential information, hang up fast and consider reporting the incident. Real bankers and government investigators don't make these kinds of calls.
Minimize the damage in case your wallet gets lost or stolen
Don't carry around more checks, credit cards or other bank items than you really need. Limit the number of credit cards you carry by canceling the ones you don't use. Don't carry your social security number in your wallet or have it pre-printed on your checks. Pick passwords and Personal Identification (PIN) numbers that will be tough for someone else to figure out - don't use your birth date or home address, for example. Also, don't leave your wallet unattended in a store, restaurant, office or other public place even for a few minutes.
Protect your incoming and outgoing mail
Promptly remove mail from your mailbox after it has been delivered. If you're going on vacation have your mail held at your local post office or ask someone you know and trust to collect your mail. Deposit outgoing mail in the Postal Service's blue collection boxes, hand it directly to a mail carrier or take it to a local post office.
Keep thieves from turning your trash into their cash
"Dumpster Divers" pick through trash looking for pre-approved credit card applications and receipts, cancelled checks, bank statements, expired charge cards and other documents or information they can use to counterfeit or order new checks or credit cards. To keep these from happening use a "cross-cut" shredder or shred the items. "Cross-cut" shredding makes confetti out of the documents and makes it virtually impossible for the thief to paste them back together.
Practice home security
Safely store extra checks, credit cards, or other financial documents. Don't advertise to burglars that you're away from home. Use timers on your lights and temporarily stop delivery of your newspaper and mail or ask a trusted neighbor to pick up any items that may arrive unexpectedly at your home.
Pay attention to your bank account statements and credit card bills
Always check into discrepancies in your records or if you notice something suspicious, such as a missing payment or an unauthorized withdrawal. Also, contact your institution if a bank statement or credit card bill doesn't arrive on time because that could be a sign someone has stolen account information and changed your mailing address in order to run up big bills in your name from another location.
Review your credit report approximately once a year
Monitor it for accuracy, looking for unauthorized bank accounts, credit cards, purchases, etc. Look for anything suspicious in the section of your credit report that lists who has received a copy of your credit history. This may be an indication a thief is trying to obtain fraudulent benefits, or is merely casing you as a viable victim.
Practice "on-line" or Internet safety
Be suspicious of web offers that "seem too good to be true." Ensure the web site you are using is legitimate, or has been formally examined and certified secure and reliable by a legitimate certifying agency such as the Better Business Bureau or the like.
Use your credit card and social security number only when absolutely necessary and that the web site and you are using secure communication links that are encrypted (scrambled). Again, keep your PIN numbers and passwords confidential, and don't write them down and leave them next to, on or near your computer.
In 2014, an estimated 6 in 7 U.S. residents (85%) took actions to prevent identity theft; such as checking credit reports, shredding documents with personal information, and changing passwords on financial accounts. The majority of identity theft victims discovered the incident when their financial institution contacted them about suspicious activity (45%) or when they noticed fraudulent charges on their account (18%). Most identity theft victims did not know how the offender obtained their information, and almost all (9 in 10) did not know anything about the offender.