Identity Theft Is Skyrocketing In America — Are You Protected?
(DailyDig) – Fraud is the intentional act of attempting to obtain an unauthorized benefit. Identity theft is the wrongful use of someone’s personally identifiable information by deception or fraud for financial gain. According to the Insurance Information Institute, 47 percent of Americans experienced some form of identity theft within a year’s time. Here are five ways to prevent becoming a victim of fraud or identity theft.
1. Keep an Eye on Bank Statements and Credit Reports
Everyone is entitled to one free copy of their credit report each year. Obtaining a copy of this report allows an individual to see and report any unauthorized activity. There are three credit reporting agencies: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. If a free credit report for each of these agencies is pulled at different times of the year, a consumer can have continual monitoring of credit activity. Additionally, consumers can set up alerts so that they are notified each time an account is opened in their name or through the use of their personally identifiable information.
Bank statements should be monitored to ensure that the individual is aware of all activity involving their bank account. Often, those seeking to fraudulently use another’s banking or credit information will not begin with large purchases, but rather with small purchases that the consumer is unlikely to notice unless they’re monitoring their account.
2. Safeguard the Information Contained in Mail
In a high-tech world, one of the most low-tech ways to become a victim of identity theft is through mail. Fraudsters can obtain information from mail taken out of someone’s mailbox when they’re out of town, or even through old mail such as bank statements that have been thrown in the trash. Mail should be collected each day. If the recipient is unable to collect the mail daily, due to being out of town, a mail hold should be placed with the U.S. Postal Service until they return. Documents containing personal information that are no longer needed should be shredded in order to avoid that information from being stolen and used by others.
3. Safeguard Electronic Devices
If a consumer regularly accesses their banking information through their mobile device, they should be sure to use two-factor identification to access those accounts. This will avoid the information being available to anyone who has the device in their hands. Two-factor identification often consists of entering a PIN or password, as well as biometric authentication, such as the use of a fingerprint. Without being able to accurately provide both forms of authentication, a would-be thief cannot access the account.
Passwords should be unique for each account, and should avoid containing information related to the user’s identity, such as the last four digits of their social security number, their birthday, or parts of their name.
4. Be Internet Safety-Savvy
One common way that identity thieves get personal information is through phishing. Phishing involves sending an email to the consumer that appears to be from a commonly used company such as Amazon or PayPal. The email states that the user needs to click on a provided link to update their account information. However, the link is not really associated with the company, but is merely a way to get the consumer to provide this information for the purpose of identity theft. It is important to remember that legitimate companies will never ask you to provide sensitive information through a link in an email.
Consumers should also ensure that the antivirus software on their electronic devices is up-to-date, as well as updating software when required as these updates often include security patches that are needed to prevent hackers from getting access to the personal information contained on the device.
5. Protect Your Children’s Information by Freezing Their Credit Files
According to U.S. News & World Report, child identity theft costs around $1 billion a year in the U.S. Parents can safeguard their child’s identity by freezing their credit so that no accounts can be opened using the child’s name or other personally identifiable information. When the child is old enough to need credit in their teen years, their credit report should be actively monitored.
How to Report Identity Theft
If an individual believes they have been the victim of identity theft, they can the incident to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), or — if they know who took the information — to their local police department. Additionally, if unauthorized charges appear on their bank or credit card statements, they can report the charges to their banking institution or the company who issued their credit card.
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