Identity theft – is there something you can do about it?
According to the data collected by Javelin Strategy and Research, about 12.6 million Americans were victimized by identity thieves in 2011 alone. This accounted for about $2,000 average out-of-pocket costs for the victims or a staggering $17 billion in total financial losses within a two-year period. However, the situation is really more serious than it seems since it is estimated that only one in every 54 identity theft cases is reported to the authorities.
Prevent Your Identity from Being Stolen
Identity theft damages your credit status, ruins your reputation and increases your risk for false imprisonment. Taking the serious risks associated with identity theft into consideration, you need to take the necessary steps to prevent it from happening. To help protect your identity and prevent it from being stolen, here are some tips you may want to consider.
- Choose strong passwords and PINs. Use passwords and PINs that no one would be able to guess and don't use the same passwords for all your accounts. In addition, you shouldn't store your passwords and other sensitive information on your computer. Also, don't write your PIN on your card or on a slip of paper that you keep in your wallet.
- Protect your computer. Keep in mind that all computers can be hacked so consider updating your firewall regularly. You should also install a strong anti-virus and anti-spyware program to keep your data safe.
- Be wary of phishing scams. Be extremely cautious of emails coming from someone you don't personally know, especially those that are asking you to confirm personal or financial information over the Internet as well as those that use frightening information to prompt you to action. In addition, you should never click on links, download files or open attachments in emails, especially if you don't know the sender personally.
- Be cautious when shopping online. Always check if the site is legitimate and look for the security symbol before shopping online.
- Be on the lookout for "shoulder surfers". Make sure that no one is looking over your shoulder or better yet, cover the keypad with your free hand when using ATMs.
- Watch out for unauthorized transactions. Pay attention to your billing cycle and immediately contact the sender when your financial statements don't come on time. Always keep your receipts and compare them with your statement.
When you think that your personal and/or financial information may have been compromised, you should take immediate action to minimize the damage. Here's what you need to do when this happens:
- Place an initial fraud alert. Contact one of the three national credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, Trans Union) and report the incidence. Placing an alert would make it harder for the thief to open accounts in your name since businesses would be required to verify the cardholder's identity before issuing credit.
- Order your credit reports. Review them closely and dispute unauthorized entries.
- Report the incidence. Call your local financial institutions and let them know that your account may have been compromised. You should also report the fraud to the local police and keep a copy of the police report. You may need this to dispute any unauthorized charges on your account.