Identity Theft is More Likely to Happen than Most Think
In 2013, identity theft affected more than 13 million Americans, and experts estimate the total annual cost of this crime is about $20 million. The negative effects of identity theft can take years for victims to fix. Law enforcement officials reported stopping an individual in October 2014 for a broken headlight and for speeding. When officers approached the driver, they found that he was on parole and driving without a license. As they searched the man’s vehicle, they found more than $10,000 and over 150 debit, gift and credit cards that had been stolen. This was just one of many examples happening throughout the United States every day. Experts say that someone’s identity is stolen every two seconds in America. Consumers can keep themselves safe with a few easy steps, which include the following:
- Do not share personal information, financial information or a Social Security number through email correspondence, social media correspondence or on unsecured Internet sites.
- When leaving the house, only take an identification card, necessary credit or debit cards and any needed cash. Leave any other items with personal information at home unless they will be needed for a specific one-time purpose.
- When discarding paperwork that includes personal information, be sure to shred it instead of throwing it directly in the trash.
- Monitor banking and credit card activity closely. If there is any suspicious activity, report it immediately.
- Always retrieve mail as quickly as possible, or invest in a mailbox that locks.
- When mailing payments or correspondence with personal information, drop it off at a post office drop location and avoid leaving it in the mailbox for the carrier to pick up.
- Do not put any personal information such as addresses or phone numbers on social media sites, or make sure the settings are adjusted so only trusted contacts can see the information.
- Never enter any financial information online or make transactions when using public Internet service. Identity thieves often use public hotspots to farm data from unsuspecting individuals.
- When doing business over the Internet, be sure the page is secure. To do this, look in the URL bar to ensure there is a lock symbol and the address starts with “https” and not “http.” This means information is being sent securely.
Many people do not start thinking about protecting their identities until it is too late and they have already been stolen. If this happens, contact one of the major credit reporting bureaus to place an initial fraud alert. The three major agencies are Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com every year to request a copy of an individual credit report. Every American is entitled to one free copy of his or her credit report each year, and this site provides them without the need for a credit card. Contact the Federal Trade Commission to file an identity theft report as well. To learn more about this topic, discuss concerns with an agent.
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