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Identity theft hit an all-time high last year. According to a report conducted by Javelin Strategy and Research, more than 15 million people in the U.S. alone had their identities stolen, resulting in over $16 billion in losses.
The specifics of how these thefts occurred isn’t clear. They were most likely a combination of savvy criminals, and careless individuals. We certainly aren’t blaming end-users, as ID theft is often out of our hands, but it is worth wondering if we’re all doing enough to protect our identities.
Five Ways to Prevent ID Theft
There are several types of identity theft we need to be aware of. Here are the most common:
- Child ID Theft – exactly what it sounds like: a criminal who uses your children’s names and/or social security numbers as their own.
- Tax ID Theft – more on this below.
- Medical ID Theft – when someone steals your personal info to get medical care or file fraudulent insurance claims.
- Senior ID Theft – schemes that target the elderly.
- Social ID Theft – when someone spoofs your social media account by stealing your name, photos, and personal information.
These are just a few examples. You can read about more in greater detail here. The good news is, despite the many angles of theft, they can all be avoided by following a few basic guidelines.
If you’ve been around this blog long enough you’ve probably noticed our tendency to push the password narrative. The thing about passwords is they are the barrier between everything you own (digitally speaking), and everything criminals want to steal. For example, if someone were to gain access to your email, how much information about you could they purge? Surely enough to at least figure out your full name, where you live, your phone number, and maybe even financial information.
And that’s all an ID thief needs. So here is the other thing about passwords: they don’t have to be a chore. You have tools at your disposal to ensure their fortitude. Here are three quick ways to create passwords that don’t suck:
- Use a password manager
- Enable two-factor authentication wherever possible.
- Use passphrases instead of passwords.
Long story short: if we don’t up our password game, we invite trouble.
We’re all about saving trees and promoting a healthy planet, but going paperless is more than just green: it’s also secure.
Anything that is physically mailed to you can be physically stolen. If someone—a dumpster diver—were to dig through your trash right now, would they find bank statements or credit card information? What about medical bills or health insurance forms?
It’s not a scenario that seems likely, but why take the chance? Most credit cards, banks, cable companies, and several other statement providers, offer the option to go 100 percent paperless (and sometimes even give you a discount/credit to do so). Take them up on this offer to eliminate the physical side of information security.
If you’re not into paperless for whatever reason, at least invest in a shredder. It’s important that we permanently destroy all sensitive documents so no one else can access them.
Keep Tabs on Your Reports
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) you are entitled to a free credit report every 12 months for the three nationwide reporting companies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You can order that report from annualcreditreport.com.
There are also a number of free services out there that track credit reports from one or all of the reporting agencies, and provide weekly summaries of your scores and your financial accounts. While we don’t endorse any of them (the author of this blog uses Credit Karma and Mint, and recommends both services), we do endorse logging into all of your accounts weekly and verifying every transaction.
Tax Season is Scam Season
— NatlCyberSecAlliance (@StaySafeOnline) March 16, 2017
The above tweet is from the most recent #ChatSTC Twitter chat, which happens monthly and covers a variety of subjects with a focus on information security. This month’s chat was all about tax ID theft and how it can be avoided, which you can read in its entirety here. (Be sure to join us for the next one!)
We could write an entire blog post on this subject alone, but here’s a quick summary. There are three main types of ID theft:
- Someone using your social security number to file a fraudulent return.
- Someone claiming your children as dependents (tax fraud).
- Someone using your social security number to get a job.
The tough thing about tax ID theft is victims don’t know about it until they file. And while it’s sometimes out of our hands, there are a few things we can do to prevent it. Here are three:
- File early. Basically, beat criminals to the punch by filing as soon as possible.
- Don’t get phished. The IRS will NEVER email you, text you, or call you asking for personal information.
- Do your research. Ensure that the person or company preparing your taxes for you is legit and trustworthy!
Trust but Verify
Per usual, awareness is key to security. We don’t want to spend our lives paranoid that every request for information is a scam, but we must always stay alert. That means double-checking email recipients before sending anything sensitive, verifying we are on legit websites when entering personal information, and reviewing any apps we install on our smart devices.
Identity theft can happen to anyone, and sometimes it’s out of our control. But by using common sense and staying vigilant, we can protect ourselves and our families. Even simple things like collecting mail in a timely manner and storing our Social Security cards in a safe place go a long way towards personal security.
Contact info for major credit agencies:
- Equifax Fraud Department – 1-800-525-6285
- Experian Fraud Department – 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion Fraud Department – 1-800-680-7289
- Callcredit Information Group – +0113 388 4300
- CreditInfo Group – +354 550 9600
(For more international, check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Credit_bureau)
Report ID theft and get a recovery plan here: https://www.identitytheft.gov/
Credit Freeze FAQs: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0497-credit-freeze-faqs
What to do if your driver’s is lost or stolen: http://www.dmv.org/articles/9-urgent-must-dos-if-you-lose-your-drivers-license/