Identity theft occurs when one person obtains personal or financial information about another and uses it for some fraudulent purpose, such as financial gain. For example, identity theft often involves opening a new credit account under another person’s name. It can also be used to commit tax fraud, such as by filing a tax return under another person’s name to obtain a refund from the IRS.
Last year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received 371,061 reports of identity theft in the United States, according to its Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2017. That made identity theft the number two consumer complaint received by the national consumer-protection agency, accounting for nearly 14% of all complaints. Only complaints about debt collectors ranked higher.
The costs of identity theft are staggering. Between 2011 and 2016, 78.5 million consumers lost nearly $110 billion as a result of identity fraud. Identity theft is a lucrative business for criminals, and has become much easier to perpetrate in the Internet era. Online shopping accounts, email accounts, and social media profiles are all tempting targets for criminals looking to steal another’s identity.
How can you protect yourself against that risk? Keep reading to find out.
Article at a Glance
- Identity theft is a crime in which one person obtains some benefit–usually financial–by pretending to be someone else.
- Although there is no way to completely prevent a person from stealing your identity, there are some simple steps that you can take to help protect yourself.
- If you believe you are a victim of identity theft, there are some further steps you can take to help yourself recover.
- Tips to Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft
- 1. Promptly review bank and credit card statements.
- 2. Monitor your credit report.
- 3. Use security freezes or fraud alerts.
- 4. Shred documents with sensitive information.
- 5. When shopping online, only buy from retailers you trust.
- 6. Use strong passwords for online accounts—and don’t reuse them.
- 7. Enable two-factor authentication whenever possible.
- 8. Don’t overshare on social media.
- 9. Be careful when using public WiFi.
- How to Recover from Identity Theft
- Closing Thoughts
Tips to Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft
Although there are no foolproof methods for preventing identity theft, there are some steps that everyone can take to make it harder for criminals to target them and steal their personal information. Here are 9 steps that can help protect you from identity thieves:
1. Promptly review bank and credit card statements.
If you see a fraudulent charge on your bank account or credit card, you have a limited amount of time to challenge it. So, carefully review your bank statements and credit card bills as soon as you receive them and report any questionable activity to the bank or credit card company immediately.
2. Monitor your credit report.
Federal law entitles you to a free copy of your credit report once a year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. Take advantage of this opportunity and review your credit report regularly. If you see suspicious accounts or activities, take steps to close those accounts and correct your credit report.
3. Use security freezes or fraud alerts.
A new federal law That went into effect in September lets you get free security freezes and fraud alerts on your credit report. These can help protect your credit by making it harder for impostors to open accounts in your name.
4. Shred documents with sensitive information.
You should also shred any bills, statements, or other documents that contain personally identifying information before throwing them away. Although many identity thieves focus their efforts online, many others still use low-tech alternatives like rifling through peoples’ trash cans.
5. When shopping online, only buy from retailers you trust.
Before giving out your credit card details to buy or subscribe to something online, make sure you’re dealing with a legitimate business and not a scammer. Look at user reviews or search for the company you’re considering buying from on the Better Business Bureau’s website or Ripoff Report.
6. Use strong passwords for online accounts—and don’t reuse them.
We know, we know: Strong passwords are hard to remember, and having more than one just exacerbates the problem. But weak passwords can be easily guessed, and if you reuse a password, then a data breach at one website can threaten your accounts on others. For help coming up with strong passwords and remembering them, consider using a password-management program.
7. Enable two-factor authentication whenever possible.
Websites protected by two-factor authentication require that, in addition to your username and password, you provide a secret number that is sent to you via text message or email when anyone tries to log in from a new computer. You should activate two-factor authentication on any website that provides the option.
Many websites rely on security questions to verify your identity after you’ve signed up. Those questions are supposed to have answers that others are unlikely to know, like your mother’s maiden name or what high school you went to. But such questions are of little use if you disclose that information publicly on your Facebook profile or other social media account.
9. Be careful when using public WiFi.
Many public WiFi hotspots, like those at your local coffee shop, are unsecured. That makes it easy for criminals to snoop on the activities of anyone connected to the hotspot, discovering usernames, passwords, and financial information. If you need to use public WiFi, either avoid going to websites where you input payment details or have to sign in, or use a VPN to protect your information.
How to Recover from Identity Theft
Identity theft is a serious crime with serious financial and personal repercussions for its victims. Fortunately, there are steps that you can take to help protect yourself against it. If, despite your best efforts to thwart identity thieves online and off, you find that your identity has been stolen, here are a few steps you can take, as suggested by the U.S. Department of Justice:
- Report the fraud to the companies where it occurred and ask that your account be frozen or closed.
- Change logins, passwords, and PINs.
- Get a credit report and place a fraud alert or security freeze.
- Report the theft to the FTC at www.IdentityTheft.gov.
- File a report with the local police.
One last thing: As a consumer bankruptcy law firm in Los Angeles, we understand that looking at a bank statement, credit card bill, or credit report is often the last thing that many Californians want to do. Such documents can be a grim reminder of a person’s dire financial straits. But identity theft can make your situation even worse, so it’s important to overcome that reluctance and keep an eye on your accounts.
If you’re tired of those dire straits and are interested in learning about how bankruptcy may be able to help you escape them and establish a firm financial foundation for the future, contact us today for a free consultation.