Last updated on December 19, 2017 at 01:48 pm
In today’s world of convenience, the many touch points where you share sensitive information is growing by leaps and bounds. While there are many online tools that are great for staying in touch and making your life a bit easier, the potential for identity theft looms large without certain precautions.
Identity theft is defined as the unauthorized use or attempted use of existing accounts, or the unauthorized use or attempted use of personal information to open a new account, or for other fraudulent purposes.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics 2012 Victims of Identity Theft report, about 7%, or 16.6 million, of U.S. citizens age 16 or older were victims of identity theft. These incidents amounted to more than $24.7 billion in direct and indirect losses, and 29% of the victims spent a month or more resolving problems due to the breach.
An Ounce of Prevention
Keeping your personal information safe is a serious matter, and with a few simple steps, you can give yourself some serious peace of mind when it comes to activities like online banking, shopping online, email, utility services, mortgages and auto loans, smartphones, social media and EFT.
Check Your Credit Report Regularly
Checking your credit report regularly is an important habit — just as you might monitor your credit card activity, it’s always a good idea to be on the lookout for any suspicious activity. Consumers are entitled to free annual credit reports from the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
Surf the Web Safely
Make sure to use secure Wi-Fi when accessing sensitive information online. Use available security measures like two-step account verification and strong passwords. Also make sure all of your anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-malware and firewall programs are up to date.
Remember to “SHRED”
The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), a national, non-profit organization established to support victims of identity theft, has a great acronym describing ways you can protect yourself against identity fraud:
What to Do if Identity Fraud Happens to You
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), one of the first steps you should take is to place a fraud alert by asking any one of the three credit reporting companies to put a fraud alert on your credit report. They must tell the other two companies. An initial fraud alert can make it harder for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name. The alert lasts 90 days, but you can renew it.
Your next immediate steps are to order you credit reports from all three credit reporting agencies, and to create an identity theft report which gives you some important rights that can help you recover from the theft.
To create one, file a complaint with the FTC and print your Identity Theft Affidavit, which you can use to file a police report and create your Identity Theft Report.
Track your correspondence while resolving identity theft by setting up a system to note all telephone calls, emails, postal mail, documents and deadlines.
The upcoming holiday shopping season is a great time to start making a habit of these anti-identity theft practices to protect you and your loved ones from having to deal with the potential identity theft hazards of on and off-line transactions.