Identity Theft – It’s a Matter of When Not If

No matter how well you protect yourself, chances are at some point you will become a victim of some sort of identity theft. It is virtually impossible, no matter what you do, that you will be 100% protected. In reality your identity probably already has been stolen and just not used yet. According to the FBI there have been over 800 million security breaches and there are only around 320 million people in this country.

What are some of the biggest forms of identity theft? Data breaches. In 2015 alone there were 781 data breaches which affected almost 200 million people! Here are some of the biggest:

Medical Identity theft – This can affect your coverage, benefits and could prevent you from getting serious medical treatment or tests needed.

Tax Returns – 2015 was known as the year of Tax Refund theft. The IRS stopped over 19 million fraudulent tax returns and more the $63 billion in fraudulent refunds.

Account takeover – this is probably one of the most prevalent and easiest forms of identity theft. It works like this: You write a check to someone, even to one of your utility companies, and the person who receives that check goes online to a check printing service and uses your account and routing numbers to print out one or two hundred checks. By the time you receive your next bank statement, there could have been hundreds or even thousands of dollars missing from your checking account and/or line of credit, especially if it’s not something you check often.

Social media – people are way too forthcoming with information about themselves when it comes to social media, making it a playground for potential identity thieves.

So what do you do?

Shred shred shred! This can’t be stressed enough! When you get promotional offers from your banks or credit cards do not just throw them away. Shred them. Shred anything with your name, address, phone number, etc. If it has a bar code on it, shred it. Bar codes, such as those on magazines often have personal information embedded in them.

Check credit card and bank statements every month to make sure that any charges are ones you actually made.

Use credit cards and not debit cards to make purchases. Credit cards have more protection than debit cards. You could end up actually being liable for any charges you didn’t make with a debit card and it can take a lot longer to recoup lost money from a bank from any fraudulent charges.

Be very careful with the information you put out on social media, including pictures. Never put your address, phone number, etc. on a social media site. And as fun as it may be to post all those pictures of your wonderful vacation at the beach, this just opens you up to everyone knowing you’re out of town! That’s creating their own “day at the beach” for someone to break into your home while you are gone.

If you do pay your bills with a check, mail them from inside the post office. It’s very easy to break into and steal checks from those big blue boxes on the street corner or that sit outside of the post office.

Having a credit monitoring service is also not a bad idea as they will watch for any suspicious activity on your accounts. All three credit bureaus, Experian, Trans Union and Equifax have excellent monitoring services.

Put fraud alerts on your credit reports. This way you will be notified immediately if anyone tries to open an account in your name. You could also take the extra step of actually putting a freeze on your credit reports. This way no one can access any information contained in your credit reports.

There is not a 100% guarantee that at some point your identity won’t be compromised. But there are little steps you can take that will at least help and hopefully be somewhat of a deterrent.