Identity theft is a serious concern in the US and across the world. The malpractice happens when someone uses your personal information or identity to commit a crime or fraud without your consent. The information that is most at risk is your name, Social Security number, and driver’s license.
According to Experian Information Solutions, personal information is usually stolen through:
- Data Breaches
- Malware Activity
- Mail Theft
- Credit Card Theft
- Mobile Phone Theft
- Wi-Fi Hacking
- Phishing and Spam
When your personal information or identity is stolen, thieves can use it to open a fraudulent credit card account, make unauthorized purchases or sell the information on the Dark Web.
Prized personal information like your Social Security number and bank account information can be used to access your financial accounts or file fraudulent taxes among other crimes. As you can see, the repercussions of having your personal information on wrong hands are grave.
Scary Identity Theft Statistics
The victims of identity theft can incur an immediate financial loss, untold damage to their credit, and serious emotional distress. Your information can also be used by global crime syndicates operating online and offline without your knowledge.
A report compiled by Identity Force lists some of the scariest identity theft statistics in the US:
- In 2017, as many as 16.7 million consumers were listed as victims of identity theft.
- New cases of identity theft in the US are reported every 2 seconds.
- As many as 31.7% of all data breaches involve identity theft.
- It takes a victim of identity theft 3 months to realize what is happening.
- In 2017, over 1 million children in the US were victims of identity theft.
How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
If you don’t want your or your loved ones to become identity theft statistics, you must take critical steps to safeguard your identity from fraudsters and criminals bent on stealing your money and destroying your credit.
Here are the 8 best ways to protect your identity against theft:
1. Lock or Freeze Your Credit
This is one of the simplest, yet effective ways to limit the use of your credit information. You can freeze your credit with all the three leading US credit reporting bureaus.
The bureaus have tailored Apps that can be used for this purpose. The service is free and protects your credit files, so no new account can be opened without your consent.
2. Limit the Info You Share
If you enjoy using social media, avoid sharing personal information like full name, birthdate and family member details with people you do not know.
Along the same lines, avoid clicking on emails you do not understand or those requesting to have your personal information.
3. Protect Your Social Security Number
The SSN is at the center of your personal identity. As such, you must do everything to safeguard it. For instance, avoid dishing the number unless you know why it is being requested.
If this information falls into the wrong company, it can be used into more serious identity and account takeover thefts.
4. Watch Your Mail Closely
Identity thieves can easily get your personal information from the mail. To counter this blatant theft, apply for postal service approved mailbox or have your mail held by the postal corporation when you are out of town.
Dedicated services like Informed Delivery from USPS can also help you preview the mail deliveries so you are aware of what may be missing.
5. Use Your Shredder Regularly
One of the best measures of safeguarding your information is making the shredder your friend. Bank statements, credit cards and other pertinent information that may find a way into the garbage should be shredded when not in use.
6. Protect Your Mobile Devices
The risk of your mobile devices getting into the wrong hands is real. The problem can worsen if you fail to use passwords to protect your devices. Once in a while, it is advisable to change your password to make them hard to guess.
You also need to be wary of using public Wi-Fi and downloading suspicious apps as some may contain malware that can be used to steal or compromise your data.
7. Check Your Financial Statements Monthly
It is important to take time to read your credit and bank statements to ensure every transaction contained in the statement is known to you.
The same applies to health records. The scrutiny will help you ensure your billing reflects what you have signed for.
8. Stay Alert and Proactive
Remember, you can still be a victim of identity theft even after taking extra precautions to safeguard your identity. Staying alert will help you detect a problem sooner and act fast.
It is advisable to check your credit report periodically for any signs of irregular transactions. You can start this by ordering a free annual credit report.
Security firms like Identity Force have also been established to help safeguard your personal information. You can subscribe to the service whenever you suspect a breach or simply need your identity protected.