When, not if, your identity will be stolen
Identity theft affects about 1 in 20 Americans each year.
That trend is only increasing with more than 13 million consumers in the United States affected by identity fraud annually, with total fraud staggering losses of nearly $17 billion. Scammers use all kinds of evolving techniques to collect personal identification information.
Once they have it, they can effectively sell your information on the dark web, try to drain financial accounts or use your identity to open accounts, make changes to your credit cards or even file tax returns.
Cyber security and ID Thefts are front and center in the news again. With major security breaches intensifying in the past few years, everyone should use vigilant steps to protect themselves.
I'm speaking from experience because my identity was stolen. Like so many others, as a victim of identity theft, I assure you everyone is at risk.
There is no way to ensure your ID has not or will not be compromised, but the good news is there are simple and powerful ways to limit your risks.
Let's start with your credit report. Many people may not be aware of how easy it is to lock down your credit for safety. All three credit agencies offer this service free.
You may freeze and unfreeze (sometimes called thawing) anytime with Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. BBB urges everyone to check their credit report at least twice a year and avoid any costs by alternating your credit checks with a different agency each time.
This is important because it's not a matter of if your personal information will be compromised, it's a matter of when.
In the United States, you have the right to check your credit report with each of the three major credit bureaus once per year at AnnualCreditReport.com. This is the only free credit reporting service authorized by the Federal Trade Commission. Also, during the pandemic, until April 20, the three major agencies are offering free credit reports.
For parents, it's especially important to check your kid's credit, because to criminals, the younger the victim, the more valuable as identity theft may take a long time to detect.
By monitoring your credit reports and bank and credit card accounts regularly, you're making yourself a much harder target. Look for unexplained withdrawals or charges. Often scammers will start with charges under a dollar just to see if the account works.
You can also set up automatic alerts on your accounts so you are notified every time a transaction is made.
Treat your personal information like the valuable commodity it is. Make sure you shred any documents that have your bank account number, Social Security number or other personal information. These include credit card applications, insurance forms, financial statements, health forms and utility and phone billing statements. Cut up expired credit and debit cards in different directions before tossing them out.
Be alert to phishing attempts. Scammers are sophisticated and their phishing attempts may come via email, text, social media message, even phone calls. Be suspicious of any unsolicited communication asking you for personal information, and never click on any link that looks suspicious or is from an unknown source. Keep apps and software up to date to maintain a high level of security.
For businesses, it is extremely important to train your employees, because most of the business cyberattacks begin with a phishing email.
Most tech experts say rule No. 1 is to use strong passwords. Avoid obvious passwords such as your hometown, birth date, mother's maiden name or really obvious ones like "123456." Cyber thieves can easily obtain online much basic information about you.
While ID theft and cyber threats can be scary and you may not be able to prevent it, you can decrease your odds.