The Federal Trade Commission reports that identity fraud occurs once every two seconds.
Someone at this time is losing their identity or is compromised. Unfortunately, many of those victims are in my hometown, St. Louis, MO.
A good example of this growing problem, St. Louis ranks third among all metropolitan areas nationally for identity theft. Missouri also ranked first ahead of Connecticut and Florida in identity theft complaints according to the 2015 survey conducted by the Consumer Sentinel Network, an online database of consumer complaints available only to law enforcement.
A 2016 identity fraud study published by Javelin Strategy & Research found that $ 15 billion was stolen from 13.1 million American consumers in 2015. In the past six years, identity thieves have stolen $ 112 billion.
Identity theft can range from credit card fraud to loans and new accounts opened in your name. In many cases, the victim will have to fight to get his name back in order. The process can take months or even years to repair.
Both companies and individuals can be vulnerable. Despite the high probability that your identity will be hacked, stolen, and abused, there are steps that can be taken to help prevent identity theft from occurring.
These include protecting your information online. With the rise of online shopping and banking, your passwords and logins need to be cleared regularly, especially if you work on a public computer. These should be changed monthly.
Credit cards must be used for online purchases. Federal law offers better guarantees for credit card protection than other options. Use them instead of online payment services or debit cards.
Avoid sites that may look like a bank but are actually what’s known as a phishing scam. They will try to get you to enter your personal information. Make sure you are on a familiar and safe website before submitting detailed background information.
Bank and credit card statements should be monitored. Check for unusual purchases, which you are sure you did not make. Businesses can have dozens of pages to review each month. Not too many individuals. Regardless, these reports should be checked regularly.
Credit reports must be read several times a year. People are entitled to a free annual credit report by law. These are available at all three Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion offices. Businesses can check with Dunn and Bradstreet. Be aware of copycat sites that will try to charge you for similar reports and other unnecessary services.
Your children’s activities may also be inadvertently opening doors to your family’s data. Forms for school and social organizations should be verified, especially when social security numbers and credit cards are needed to participate. Parents should ask how the information will be used and how it will be stored to eliminate possible infractions.
Finally, hiring an identity theft prevention company can provide a combination of preventive and reactive tools to help maintain your identity and credit. These can include fraud alerts and credit freezes. Some services provide unlimited protection without limits in case your assets are compromised. The programs are available to the entire workforce as well as individuals.
As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” A saying never more appropriate when your identity is at risk.