Identity theft is on the rise and wreaking havoc on the lives of many Americans. While everyone is at risk and there’s no foolproof way to safeguard against it, learning how to protect yourself from this type of fraud can go a long way in lowering your risk of identity theft.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, there were 3.2 million cases of fraud reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2019. Of those cases, 20.33% were identified as theft-related. This resulted in $667 million in losses, which was a 46% increase since 2018. The FTC showed Ohio faring better than most states in reports of identity theft per capita in 2019, but still reporting more than 10,0000 complaints.
While no one is immune to identity theft, some are more at risk than others. Children, seniors, active-duty military, and social media users, who make it easy for cybercriminals to discover personal and sensitive information, are all more susceptible to fraud. However, The Ascent noted people ages 30 to 39 reported the most cases (30.2%) of stolen identity last year.
Understanding different types of identity theft is essential for protection against it. According to The Ascent, the most common is credit card fraud, which makes up 41.8% of identity theft reports. Others include synthetic account fraud, a combination of real and false information, and data breaches. The Capital One cyber incident, which was the biggest breach in 2019, falls under this category.
Credit unions exist to improve their members’ lives and offer guidance and resources to help members better protect and manage their finances. Most Ohioans are eligible to join and enjoy the benefits. Find a credit union near you at yourmoneyfurther.com.
Tips for lowering your risk of identity theft
One in 20 Americans is affected by identity theft, totaling $1.9 billion in losses in 2019. It’s an all too common threat these days, but there are steps you can take to reduce the risk of falling victim to identity fraud. Consider these valuable tips from Nerd Wallet to protect yourself as much as possible.
- Freeze – Your credit, that is. Put a hold on your credit with all three major bureaus – Equifax, Experian, Transunion – to restrict access to your records. New credit files are unable to be opened until you decide to unfreeze. Both freezing and unfreezing your credit are completely free. Additional guidance is available from the Federal Trade Commission.
- Protect your SSN – Your Social Security number is a master key to all your personal data, so you’ll want to guard it with your life. Try not to give your number out. If you do, be sure to ask why it’s needed and how it will be protected. Never carry your Social Security card with you and be extra careful about storing paperwork with your number on it.
- Use strong passwords – Set unique passwords for your accounts and never reuse them. A password manager can help you create and store passwords. Add an authentication step instead of relying on security questions that are too easy to figure out.
- Set up alerts – Sign up for text or email alerts through your credit union. You’ll be informed every time a transaction goes through on your accounts. This gives you an opportunity to catch discrepancies right away. The sooner you can report fraudulent activity, the better.
- Keep an eye on your mail – Stolen mail is one of the easiest ways to commit identity theft. Sign up for Informed Delivery through the U.S. Postal Service, which captures and sends you a daily preview of your mail so you know if anything is missing.
- Shred, shred, shred – Shred documents with sensitive data frequently, including financial statements and those preapproved offers that normally go straight in the junk mail pile.
- Go digital – When paying for something in-store or online, use an app containing digital versions of your credit and debit cards. The encrypted transactions are safer and transmit less germs, too.
- Safeguard your phone – Mobile devices pose a real risk for identity theft and far too many people (48%, according to Nerd Wallet) leave their phones unlocked and unprotected. Consider placing a password on your cell phone, as well as a personal identification number (PIN) on your cellular account. Also, remember to turn off Bluetooth if you’re not using it and be careful using public Wi-Fi, as others may be able to see your personal data.
- Keep an eye on your credit – Check credit reports frequently to monitor all activity and report anything you find suspicious.
- Stay alert – Even under the most watchful eye, identity theft can still happen. Stay vigilant with your personal data and report anything that feels off. Early detection is essential for correcting a problem.