Identity theft is a real problem. Like most crimes, it may seem like something you only hear about on the news that is unlikely to happen to you. Unfortunately, it’s far more common than you may realize, and it can be incredibly damaging to your personal and financial life. Thanks to the Internet and our love for putting our lives online, it’s becoming easier and easier for criminals to take advantage and steal your identity.
What is identity theft? Some people think identity theft occurs only when someone essentially assumes your entire identity. While this is true in extreme cases, it usually isn’t that elaborate. It’s as simple as someone using your personal information, such as your Social Security number or address (and in some cases, a physical credit card) without your permission. They don’t need to completely take over your identity to damage it, and simply having a couple of key pieces of your information could lead to significant problems.
Still don’t think identity theft is something you need to worry about? Here are some facts that might change your mind.
— A 2012 study by Javelin Strategy & Research concluded that more than 5% of all adults in the United States have been a victim of identity fraud.
— Identity theft complaints accounted for 18% of nearly 2 million reports received during calendar year 2012, according to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service
— According to the Federal Trade Commission, consumer reported spending more than $1.4 billion in fraud complaints in 2012 The average consumer spent was $535.
Now that you see how common this problem really is, what can you do to prevent it? Thankfully, common sense goes a long way, and you can stay out of harm’s way with a few basic strategies.
Since a lot of identity theft occurs as a result of unsecured online activity, this is where you can have the greatest impact. Never open emails or click links from unknown senders. If your bank seemingly sends an unsolicited email asking for information or to click on a link, pick up the phone and call about it first. And of course, stick to shopping only at reputable online retailers and use a credit card instead of a debit card when possible.
When it comes to offline types of identity theft, do your best to keep your personal information safe. Shred or properly dispose of trash with any personal information on it. Bank statements or other mail that make it into the trash can be uncovered by thieves when it’s taken for collection. Be discreet about sharing financial information, even with those you know. Finally, check your credit regularly to spot potential identity-theft concerns. Early detection makes resolving the issue much easier.
About the Author
A financial planner turned retirement planning specialist, Jeremy Vohwinkle has been writing about finance since 2006. He holds various FINRA licenses and has obtained the Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor designation from the College for Financial Planning.
This article is provided for general guidance and information. It is not intended as, nor should it be construed to be, legal, financial or other professional advice. Please consult with your attorney or financial advisor to discuss any legal or financial issues involved with credit decisions.
Published by permission from ConsumerInfo.com, Inc. © 2014 ConsumerInfo.com, Inc. All rights reserved.