Identity Fraud Reports Increased by More Than a Million Last Year

Identity fraud grew sharply in 2012 with more than 12 million reported claims, according to a new report from Javelin Strategy & Research. Analysts found that the number of identity fraud incidents increased by approximately a million people in 2012, or one new victim in the United States every 3 seconds. One of every six Americans can expect to be a victim of identity theft who spend nearly two years trying to restore their names at average cost of $800 dollars.

In financial terms, the dollar amount stolen increased to $21 billion. The most common method used for stealing identities appeared to be data breach notification letters (received online). Approximately one in four recipients of these kinds of messages ended up being a victim. Anything involving social security numbers also seemed to up the ante as consumers who had their SSNs compromised were five times more likely to be the victim of identity fraud than the average consumer.

“Identity Theft is a crime in which an impostor obtains sensitive personal identifying information such as Social Security numbers and driver license numbers, and uses them for their own personal gain. It can start with lost or stolen wallets, stolen mail, a computer data breach, computer virus, or online phishing scam, or trashed documents thrown out by individuals or businesses. This crime varies widely, and includes check fraud, credit card fraud, financial identity theft, criminal identity theft, governmental identity theft, and identity fraud.” (Source: Identity Theft Resource Center).

What You Can Do to Prevent Identity Theft

Check financial statements promptly. Check your bank statement, brokerage and credit card statements for accuracy, and report problems immediately.

Monitor your credit. Order credit reports annually from the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax (888-766-0008), www.equifax.com; TransUnion (800-680-7289), www.transunion.com; and Experian (888-397-3742),www.experian.com. Note: Reports of fraud and identity theft to any one of these credit bureaus will automatically generate a report to the other two agencies.

Be stingy with personal information. Never give out your Social Security number, birth date, or mother’s maiden name, unless you asked for the transaction. Do not put such information on forms except for employment, financing, and insurance. Never put such information on a web site or anywhere that is available to the public.

Just say “No!” Tell your bank that you “opt out” of information sharing. Also, avoid pre-approved credit offers by calling the Credit Reporting Industry Pre-Screening Opt-Out number at 1-888-567-8688.

Travel light. Don’t carry ID that contains sensitive data like your SSN unless absolutely necessary.

Lock it up. Lock your desk, cabinets and safes at the office and at home. Don’t leave access to anything sensitive like your driver’s license or government ID.

Shred and destroy. Shred any papers containing SSN, account numbers, birth dates. Destroy CDs and floppy disks containing sensitive data. Reformat your hard drive before discarding it.

Guard mail. Discourage mail theft by using a locked mailbox or a postal mailbox.

Keep your eye on the card. Crooks use a handheld card reader to copy your credit and debit card information. So don’t let waiters, sales clerks, or gas station attendants take your card out of your sight.

Beware of strange ATMs. Avoid private or strange-looking ATMs. They may be rigged to skim data off your card.

Avoid “shoulder surfers”. When using pay phones, ATMs, and public Internet access, avoid letting people see what you are doing. “Don’t use cordless phones to conduct sensitive financial or medical business” because it’s easy to listen in on cordless signals.

Build a wall. Use a firewall and anti-virus software on your computer to stop hackers.

Log off. Quit your browser and log off after using public Internet-access computers in libraries, Internet cafes, and the like. Don’t pay bills, bank, or conduct other financial transactions on public computers. If you have a high-speed Internet connection at home, unplug the computer’s cable or phone line when you are not using it to discourage hackers.

Deal only with reputable Web sites. A professional-looking Web site is no guarantee of security. Read the site’s privacy and security policies. Don’t enter personal data unless you trust the company and the site.

Don’t respond. Never respond to unsolicited emails which ask for personal information. Many sites, including FaceBook, Bebo, MySpace, hi5 and others, may pick up and sell your personal information.

Use complex passwords. All your bank and brokerage accounts should have passwords. Use passwords that are not in the dictionary. Consider using a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters.

Check your workplace. Ask how your employer safeguards employee records. Request that Social Security numbers not be used as employee ID numbers.

Shred your documents. Your trash can is a potential treasure for identity thieves, so be sure to shred all documents, unsolicited mail, credit card applications, sales receipts, and any other documents containing your name, address or other personal identification information.

Protect your social media profile. So, you think your FaceBook or other social media site profile information is safe and secure? Wrong! Any information you upload to the Internet is never completely safe … or private. Sophisticated hackers and identity thieve are very clever when it comes to accessing any kind of online information – even within so-called “privacy-protected” areas of your online profile. Never upload your birth date, residence or post office addresses, or any other information that could personally identify you.

Beware of scammers. Never send money over the Internet to people or institutions you don’t know, especially to individuals or companies offering “get rich quick” schemes, or anyone promising you a fast buck if you’ll just enter your credit card information online or who ask you to send money via a wire transfer.

Is Your Computer Secure?

If the computer you’re using now is not protected, identity thieves and other fraudsters may be able to get access and steal your personal information. By using safety measures and good practices to protect your home computer, you can protect your privacy and your family. The following tips are offered to help you lower your risk while you’re online.

Install a Firewall

A firewall is a software program or piece of hardware that blocks hackers from entering and using your computer. Hackers search the Internet the way some telemarketers automatically dial random phone numbers. They send out pings (calls) to thousands of computers and wait for responses. Firewalls prevent your computer from responding to these random calls. A firewall blocks communications to and from sources you don’t permit. This is especially important if you have a high-speed Internet connection, like DSL or cable. Some operating systems have built-in firewalls that may be shipped in the “off” mode. Be sure to turn your firewall on. To be effective, your firewall must be set up properly and updated regularly. Check your online “Help” feature for specific instructions.

Use Anti-Virus Software

Anti-virus software protects your computer from viruses that can destroy your data, slow down or crash your computer, or allow spammers to send e-mail through your account. Anti-virus protection scans your computer and your incoming e-mail for viruses, and then deletes them. You must keep your anti-virus software updated to cope with the latest “bugs” circulating the Internet. Most anti-virus software includes a feature to download updates automatically when you are online. In addition, make sure that the software is continually running and checking your system for viruses, especially if you are downloading files from the Web or checking your e-mail. Set your anti-virus software to check for viruses when you first turn on your computer. You should also give your system a thorough scan at least twice a month.

Use Anti-Spyware Software

Spyware is software installed without your knowledge or consent that can monitor your online activities and collect personal information while you surf the Web. Some kinds of spyware, called keyloggers, record everything you key in – including your passwords and financial information. Signs that your computer may be infected with spyware include a sudden flurry of pop-up ads, being taken to Web sites you don’t want to go to, and generally slowed performance.
Spyware protection is included in some anti-virus software programs. Check your anti-virus software documentation for instructions on how to activate the spyware protection features. You can buy separate anti-spyware software programs. Keep your anti-spyware software updated and run it regularly.
To avoid spyware in the first place, download software only from sites you know and trust. Piggybacking spyware can be an unseen cost of many “free” programs. Don’t click on links in pop-up windows or in spam e-mail.

Manage Your System and Browser to Protect Your Privacy

Hackers are constantly trying to find flaws or holes in operating systems and browsers. To protect your computer and the information on it, put the security settings in your system and browser at medium or higher. Check the Tools or Options menus for how to do this. Update your system and browser regularly, taking advantage of automatic updating when it’s available. Windows Update is a service offered by Microsoft. It will download and install software updates to the Microsoft Windows Operating System, Internet Explorer, Outlook Express, and will also deliver security updates to you. Patching can also be run automatically for other systems, such as Macintosh Operating System.

Secure Your Wireless Network

If you use a wireless network in your home, be sure to take precautions to secure it against hackers. Encrypting wireless communications is the first step. Choose a wireless router with an encryption feature and turn it on. WPA encryption is considered stronger than WEP. Your computer, router, and other equipment must use the same encryption. If your router enables identifier broadcasting, disable it. Note the SSID name so you can connect your computers to the network manually. Hackers know the pre-set passwords of this kind of equipment. Be sure to change the default identifier on your router and the pre-set administrative password. Turn off your wireless network when you’re not using it. Remember that public “hot spots” may not be secure. It’s safest to avoid accessing or sending sensitive personal information over a public wireless network.f

If You Become a Victim

If you find out that you’ve become a victim of identity theft through a call from a collection agency, or if you were denied a credit due to a poor credit score, report the crime to the local police and keep a copy as proof for creditors and merchants. Some states require that you report the theft in the jurisdiction where it occurred.

You should also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (1-877-ID-THEFT). Use an ID theft affidavit fromwww.consumer.gov/idtheft to notify merchants, banks, and credit bureaus.

Immediately notify credit-reporting agencies. (See list of three agencies and their contact information above.) When you notify any one of the credit bureaus, they will notify the others for you. Establish “Fraud Alerts” with the credit-reporting agencies, which means that every time a creditor wants to check your credit report, they will need to call you. You may also want to request a freeze of your credit report. Also instruct the credit bureaus to block information about the fraudulent accounts from future reports.

Finally, immediately notify banks, creditors, and utility and phone or cell companies. Close all accounts used by thieves, change your online passwords and PINs, and check to if you are missing any ATM or credit cards. If yes, report the lost cards to your creditors immediately.

If a bill collector contacts you regarding a fraudulent account, inform it that you are a victim of identity theft, and ask for their address. You will need to send them a fraud affidavit that will tell them that you are not responsible for the account and that the account needs to be closed.

Additional Resources

Government Identity Theft Site

Identity Theft Insurance

Identity Theft Resource Center

Identity Theft Resources

ID Theft Victim’s Page

SS Help with ID Theft