Identity theft is the number one consumer fraud in America at a cost of billions of dollars to victims of the crime. Identity theft occurs when someone is able to steal your identity and access your assets or use your identity to make purchases, take out loans or even access your medical insurance. In addition, criminals may use your identity when committing crimes and after vanishing after posting bail can create a problem for you having to prove you are not the criminal.
Identity theft can result in your being hounded by debt collectors for debts you did not incur; becoming unable to access your own credit cards, bank accounts or brokerage accounts’ having your assets stolen; being arrested for crimes committed by people who have stolen your identity; or even receive improper medical care because your medical identity has been stolen and your medical records have been corrupted. In addition, identity theft can ruin your your credit rating, which in turn can affect your chances of getting a loan, a job, insurance or a home rental.
Identity theft occurs when your personal information is compromised which may be as a result of a data breach at a company, institution or government agency that has your personal information. We can also be faulted when we fall prey to phishing or spear phishing emails or text messages and provide our personal information to an identity thief.
As I often say, “things aren’t as bad as you think… they are far worse.” According to the FTC identity theft has increased in the United States by 145% since the start of the pandemic. And while this number is frightening, the increase in many individual states has been even worse. Identity theft in Louisiana increased 396 % since the start of the pandemic.
Here are some things you can do to protect yourself from identity theft.
1. Freeze your credit reports (and those of your children too who are primary targets of identity thieves) which will help prevent an identity thief from getting a loan or making a large purchase using your name even if the identity thief has your Social Security number.
2. Limit the people to whom you give your Social Security number. Although many businesses ask for it, they don’t need it. Your eye doctor may ask for your Social Security number, but the doctor doesn’t need it and often small businesses do a poor job of protecting the security of their data.
3. Don’t put outgoing mail in your mail box. Identity thieves cruise neighborhoods looking for red flags on mailboxes turned up to indicate that there is outgoing mail. Often the outgoing mail may have checks, credit card information or other information that can lead to identity theft.
4. Don’t give personal information to anyone over the phone who you have not called and always be sure of to whom you are speaking. Merely because your Caller ID indicates that the call is legitimate is not a reason for trusting the call. Through a technique called spoofing, an identity thief can make their call appear to come from whatever source and number they wish.
5. Don’t use your debit card for anything other than an ATM card. Debit cards do not have the protection from fraudulent use that credit cards do under federal law.
6. Don’t use Zelle, Venmo or other similar payment services for anything other than sending money to friends and family. It is easily exploited and federal law does not protect you much.
7. Don’t use public Wifi for sensitive transactions and consider using a VPN for further protection.
8. Use good security software on all of your electronic devices and install updates as soon as they are available.
9. Use strong unique passwords for all of your accounts and use dual factor authentication whenever possible.
For more detailed information on protecting yourself from identity theft, I urge you to consider getting my book “Identity Theft Alert” which you can order on the Scamicide website or through Amazon.
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