It seems like you cannot tune into the news without hearing about identity theft. You know the story, the perpetrators may open credit cards using personal information, make purchases, take out loans or transfer funds.
But there is something that this constant stream of news is missing, and not educating yourself can put you at risk. 80% of all identity theft cases are not related to credit card or financial theft. With only 20% of identity theft getting 90% of the airtime, people continue to be put at risk for identity theft in ways that are more harmful and more prevalent than anything that may affect your credit history.
What happens if you are victim of a much more serious form of identity theft?
Identity thieves have been known to use victims’ personal information to commit crimes, which then show up on the victims’ background reports. Imagine being pulled over for speeding, only to discover that you have already been convicted for a crime you had nothing to do with.
Another form of identity theft includes the use of your personal data to obtain medical procedures in your name, which can have results far worse than financial loss. Your medical records could contain inaccurate information, which in turn, could lead to improper care in the case of an emergency. These types of identity theft are not only difficult to fix, but for the average consumer, nearly impossible to detect on their own.
Sunday starts the beginning of National Protect Your Identity Week, so we thought it would be a good time to remind you about these issues and the steps you can take to improve awareness of your personal information.
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It’s that time of year again when the kids return to school. Whether your children are just beginning elementary school or embarking onto their first days of college, there is likely one thing that was not on your back-to-school list – identity theft protection.
Children represent the largest growing segment of the population victimized by identity theft. While a child cannot purchase a car, a house, or open a credit card, their identity can be stolen. And, when a child’s identity is stolen, the possibilities for the thief are endless.
For most parents, their child’s credit is pristine, their social security numbers are untapped, and there is little reason that any irregularities would be noticed.
Because children have no use for credit, when identity theft is finally detected, the damage can be devastating. A recent study by Carnegie Mellon found:
- 10.2% of children were victims of identity theft within the last year, compared to 0.2% of adults.
- The youngest victim was 5 months old.
- A 17-year-old’s identity was used to open 42 accounts racking up $725,000 in debt.
Why you should care….
Because of the former practice of assigning social security numbers at birth based on a child’s location and date of birth made it easy for people to obtain access to a child’s social security number.
In July, the SSA announced it would begin assigning social security numbers in a random fashion. Read here to learn more about the SSA Randomization Project.
Did you send your son or daughter off to college with an emergency credit card or maybe they are thinking about opening on campus for the first time. How about the general disclosure of your children’s personal information at schools and doctor’s offices? All of these practices have the potential to put their identities at risk because these institutions often fail to adequately protect personal information and are slow in responding should a data breach occur.
What you can do…
There are a number of basic precautions that you can take to keep your children’s personal data safe.
- For starters, exercise extreme caution and protect it just as you would your own sensitive personal data.
- When asked for your child’s personal data, do not hesitate to ask why it is needed.
- Ask if alternate identification is accepted.
- When disclosing personal data, ask how it will be stored and protected, or how it will be destroyed.
Always practice identity safe guards at home and teach your children why it is important to protect their personal information. Common tips include:
- Do not carry social security cards with you. Always keep them locked in a safe place.
- Shred documents containing any personal information before throwing them away.
- Do not give your children their social security numbers until they understand their importance and how to protect them.
- Teach your children the importance of sharing personal information, especially online.
Although it is not recommended to routinely monitor your child’s credit, it is suggested that you do keep your eye out for a tell tale indicators, which include receiving any type of preapproved credit cards sent under your child’s name or any offers that signal an open line of credit. Additionally, the FTC suggests that parents run their child’s credit report on their sixteenth birthday to look for possible irregularities. Doing so offers enough time before the child will apply for employment, student loans, apartments, or any other credit related responsibilities.
You can’t protect your children from everything, but taking a few, easy precautions can help ensure their identities and futures are protected.
Just because you’re on holiday, doesn’t mean that identity thieves and cyber criminals are… in fact, your carefree mood makes you a greater target. Here are a few tips and suggestions on how to protect yourself whenever you are traveling.
Empty Your Wallet
Keep your personal documents to a bare minimum – you don’t really need to bring your deck of credit cards, membership cards or frequent diner cards. Carrying an excessive number of cards with personal information on them puts you at a greater risk of identity theft, should your wallet be stolen. A helpful tip is to write down all of the numbers foyour credit companies, so that you have them handy should your cards go missing.
If you are traveling abroad, make sure to keep your passport in a secure location. Consider carrying a photocopy rather than the actual passport. Should you need to carry your passport – protect it as you would a child. A lost passport is not only vacation ruining, but also a treasure trove of personal information.
Secure Your Devices
iPads and laptops make traveling much more enjoyable, but you should take extra precautions when using them. Ensuring that your devices are password protected is the best place to start.
Think about all of the passwords and account numbers saved on your laptop…what would happen if those should fall into the wrong hands? Believe it or not:
A recent survey of 5 airports in the United States found that travelers left behind more than 11,000 laptops, tablet PCs, smart phones and USB sticks in the past year. http://bit.ly/r35Jv8
Nearly all phones have the ability to be password protected, so be sure to take advantage of that feature. If you own an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch, a helpful tool is the “Find My iPhone” feature, which enables owners to locate, lock or remote wipe their devices. Find out more.
Additionally, take precautions when signing on to unsecured wireless networks or public computers, whether in the airport, hotel or a cafe. These unsecured networks are probably not the best place to check your bank balance or send any sensitive personal information.
Keep these simple precautions in mind while travelling to keep your vacation relaxing and ensure the only threat to your identity will be those embarrassing beach pictures your kids just uploaded to Facebook.
Citi and Sony are two recent examples of the more prominent companies to experience significant data breaches. This brings the total number of incidents to 278 so far this year – an average of 2 per day – and the total number of affected records to more than 115 million.
Does it seem like every time you tune into the news there is another big brand or well-known company entrusted with consumer data that has been hacked? Well, it’s because contrary to popular belief, there isn’t a way to stop identity theft.
However, there are early warning signs that can identify when there is a problem that can lead to identity theft. There are also ways to fix and then recover from any of these instances, if you have been a victim of theft or any identity related issue.
With that said, the following are simple steps that consumers can take to deter, detect and defend against these types of data breaches to become a smarter consumer and maintain the integrity of your identity.
- Frequently monitor your credit for irregularities. These can include something as seemingly harmless as a misspelled name, but don’t be mistaken – things like this can be harmful.
- If you spot irregularities, contact all three major creditors and ask to have a free 90-day fraud alert on your account.
- Should you fall victim, there is a long and trying process of restoring your identity.
- Be discerning about the type of information you are giving out online. You wouldn’t hand over your wallet that contains all of your personal information to a stranger on the street so don’t do it online.
- Make sure you are protected from all types of attacks and download anti-virus and anti-spam software from one of the many providers.
- Check out Security News Daily for some additional ways to be a smarter consumer in a recent blog post.
Just remember that when it comes to your identity, being informed and vigilant is your first line of defense.