How to Protect Yourself From Identity Theft
According to the Insurance Information Institute, 15.4 million consumers in the U.S. were victims of identity theft in 2017, resulting in 16 billion dollars in theft. Within the last six years, identity thieves have managed to steal more than 107 billion dollars.
Even more alarming is that despite greater awareness of identity theft, the number of victims each year is growing. The 15.4 million people affected in 2017 is up substantially from the 13.1 million victims in 2016.
How Does Identity Theft Happen?
Thieves have many tricks and tactics they use to obtain your personal information and thus your identity.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns that identity thieves commonly use the following tactics to obtain identifying information about their victims:
- Getting you to send personal information via email.
- Stealing account numbers from businesses and medical facilities.
- Posing as creditors or IRS representatives over the phone.
- Stealing your wallet or purse.
- Hacking your home or work computer or network.
- Digging through your garbage.
With bits and pieces of information discovered from one or more of the sources mentioned above, thieves can begin the process of stealing your identity.
What Can Someone Do With Your Social Security Number?
One of the most critical pieces of identifying information is your Social Security Number. This number identifies you to the government, employers, the IRS, banks, lenders, credit card companies, and more.
With your social security number and a few other details, thieves can obtain loans, open credit accounts, buy homes and vehicles, and create massive amounts of debt in your name. Some thieves can even use your social security number to get a job. This can cause all kinds of problems with the IRS, especially if they also use your SSN to file for a tax refund.
Additionally, people have been known to use this information to commit fraud, to apply for and receive government benefits, and to conceal crimes or criminal histories.
What Should You Do if Your Social Security Card is Stolen?
If you suspect your Social Security Card has been stolen, you should report it immediately to the Social Security Administration.
While the administration cannot solve problems if your identity has been compromised, they can help you determine if someone is using your SSN for other purposes.
Additionally, you should visit the Federal Trade Commission’s Identity Theft website to report identity theft and begin the process of recovering your name and credit.
There are many steps involved to recover from identity theft. They include things like:
- Obtaining an up-to-date copy of your credit report to determine the full extent of the identity theft.
- Reporting errors and bogus charges to have them removed from your account.
- Contacting creditors and debt collectors about charges you did not authorize.
- Clearing your name of possible criminal charges related to activities of identity thieves.
- Creating a credit freeze for an extended period of time and establishing fraud alerts so that any new credit issued in your name (and with your Social Security Number) goes through additional scrutiny.
Depending on the type of identity theft committed against you and the extent of damage done, it might take more effort and action on your part to clean up your credit and sort out your identity.
Preventing Identity Theft
Save yourself the drama, heartache, and time involved in sorting out identity theft by acting now to prevent it from happening to you. Of course, there is no absolute method to protect you from identity theft, but the following steps recommended by U.S. News and World Report can help you minimize your risks:
- Use strong passwords and never settle for defaults.
- Exercise caution when giving out identifying and/or personal information.
- Invest in a high-quality shredder for your home.
- Set up credit alerts (while this won’t prevent identity theft it can help you discover it sooner rather than later).
- Check your credit reports routinely.
Don’t forget to consider and secure the amount of personal, financial, and identifying information stored on your mobile phone, laptop, and even thumb drives you may carry around on your keychain. Also, consider enlisting the services of an identity theft prevention company and investing in identity theft insurance coverage.
The Insurance Center of North Jersey is dedicated to helping businesses, and residents minimize exposure to risk. Understanding how to protect yourself or your business from identity theft can save you from the experience of trying to recover your name, your reputation, and your financial identity.