The Federal Trade Commission reports that identity fraud occurs once every two seconds.
Someone right now is losing or compromising their identity. Unfortunately, many of those victims are in my hometown of St. Louis, MO.
A good example of this growing problem, St. Louis ranks third among all metropolitan areas nationally for identity theft. Missouri also ranked first ahead of Connecticut and Florida in identity theft complaints according to a 2015 survey conducted by the Consumer Sentinel Network, an online database of consumer complaints available only to law enforcement.
A 2016 Identity Fraud Study, published by Javelin Strategy & Research, found that $15 billion was stolen from 13.1 million US consumers in 2015. Over the past six years, identity thieves have stolen $112 billion.
Identity theft can run the gamut, from credit card fraud to loans to new accounts opened in your name. In many cases, the victim will have to fight to get her name back. The process can take months or even years to repair.
Both companies and individuals can be vulnerable. Despite the high probability that your identity will be hacked, stolen, or abused, there are steps one can take to help prevent identity theft from occurring.
These include protecting your information online. With the rise of online banking and shopping, your passwords and logins need to be cleared regularly, especially if you work on a public computer. These must be changed monthly.
Credit cards must be used for online purchases. Federal law provides better safeguards for credit card protection than other options. Use them instead of online payment services or debit cards.
Avoid sites that may look like a bank but are actually what is known as a phishing scam. They will try to get you to enter your personal information. Make sure you are on a website that is familiar and safe before you provide detailed background data.
Bank and credit card statements should be monitored. Check for odd purchases, ones you’re sure you didn’t make. Companies may have dozens of pages to review each month. Individuals not too many. Regardless, these reports should be reviewed periodically.
Credit reports should be used several times a year. People are entitled to free annual credit reports by law. These are available at all three offices Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Businesses can check with Dunn and Bradstreet. Beware of fake sites that will try to charge you for similar reports and other unnecessary services.
Your children’s activities may also be inadvertently opening doors to your family’s data. Forms for schools and social organizations should be reviewed especially when social security numbers and credit cards are needed to participate. Parents should ask how the information will be used and how it will be stored to eliminate potential infringements.
Finally, hiring an identity theft prevention company can provide a combination of preventive and reactive tools to help maintain your identity and credit. These may include fraud alerts and credit freezes. Some services provide unlimited protection without limits in case your assets are compromised. Programs are available to the entire workforce as well as individuals.
As the old saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” A saying never more appropriate when your identity is at risk.