Identity theft is defined as the unauthorized use or attempted misuse of an existing credit card or other existing account, the misuse of personal information to open a new account or for another fraudulent purpose, or a combination of these types of misuse.
The massive security breach of retail giant Target proves nobody is safe from identity theft, which is increasing every year.
Check out these alarming statistics:
Identity Theft / Fraud Statistics
Average number of U.S. identity fraud victims annually
Percent of U.S. households that reported some type of identity fraud
Average financial loss per identity theft incident
Total financial loss attributed to identity theft in 2013
Total financial loss attributed to identity theft in 2010
Percent of Reported Identity Thefts by Type of Fraud
Misuse of Existing Credit Card
Misuse of Other Existing Bank Account
Misuse of Personal Information
States with the highest identity theft complaint rate
Victims Per 100,000
States with the lowest identity theft complaint rate
Victims Per 100,000
Source: U.S. Department of Justice, Javelin Strategy & Research
Here are steps you can take to minimize your chances of falling victim to identity theft:
Guard personal information. Do not give out personal information, such as account or credit card numbers, on the phone or over the Internet unless you have initiated the contact. (Identity thieves could pose as bank officials, Internet providers or credit card company representatives).
Report lost or stolen checks immediately. Examine new checks to be sure none were stolen during shipment, and store them in a safe and secure location.
Shred documents. Shred unused financial solicitations and other financial documents such as statements or receipts (including ATM receipts) before discarding them.
Protect your mail. Make sure your mailbox is secure, and promptly remove mail when it has been delivered. Identity thieves often target residential mailboxes to obtain credit card offers and financial statements.
Deliver checks to the bank. When ordering new checks, pick them up at the bank instead of having them sent to your home.
Don’t leave mail in your mailbox. Deposit outgoing mail at your local post office; don’t leave it in your mailbox. If you will be away from home for an extended time, ask the post office to hold your mail.
Guard your Social Security Number. Give out your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary or when required by law.
Only carry necessary documents with you. Don’t carry extra credit cards, your Social Security card, birth certificate or passport in your wallet or purse, unless you need it.
Copy your information. Make copies of your credit cards, and record your bank and investment account numbers. Keep this information in a secure place, along with the telephone numbers for customer service or the fraud department for each, so you can quickly notify them if there’s a problem.
Monitor your credit. Follow your credit card billing cycles closely. Make sure you are receiving your credit card bill every month— identity thieves may try to change your billing address.
Create hard-to-guess passwords. Create passwords or PIN numbers out of a random mix of numbers and letters. When creating passwords or PIN numbers, do not use your birthday, pet names, the last four digits of your Social Security number, your mother’s maiden name or anything else that could easily be discovered by thieves.
Install a firewall. Install a firewall on your computer. And before disposing of your computer, remove data by using a strong “wipe” utility program. Don’t trust the delete function to remove files containing sensitive information.
Check your credit report. Review your credit report at least once a year to check for errors and fraudulent use of your account. Consumers can now get a free copy of their credit report annually. To order your free report, go to www.annualcreditreport.comor call 1.877.322.82281.877.322.8228
Don’t forget to check your home insurance policy – you can often get identity theft insurance through your carrier.
How you been the victim of identity theft? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below!