You certainly have a reason to if your identity continues to be safe — something that millions of Americans cannot say. Recently, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that a total of 17,576,200 people age 16 and older were the victims of identity theft in 2014.
That’s 7 percent of the population, or one in every 14 people — an uncomfortably large percentage that many experts say will only get larger in the coming years.
Many of these victims suffered serious financial consequences. Two-thirds reported a direct financial loss, in which their credit cards, bank accounts or other accounts were misused. Those who were hit the hardest had new fraudulent accounts opened under their names, but those who had existing accounts compromised also lost their share of money. Even though banks and credit card companies worked to credit the accounts of victims, at least 14 percent experienced out-of-pocket losses worth more than $1,000.
Dig through the report and it gets worse. Apparently, two-thirds of the victims say they still have no idea how thieves got access to their data. Most were not aware that their information had been compromised until either they were contacted by their financial institutions or noticed the discrepancies on their statements themselves.
The problem, of course, is that there are numerous ways to steal identity that most consumers don’t even think of. Most of us realize that if someone steals our credit card number or the password to our online bank account, they could do financial damage in almost no time. Far fewer of us have considered the implications of hidden card skimming, or a seemingly innocuous social media hack.
“These folks are crafty, and good at what they do,” Dan Hendrickson, spokesperson for the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota, recently told BringMeTheNews. “It’s really important for people to know that they are, largely, their own best ally against identity theft.”
Every American faces a certain level of risk of identity theft, but some people have a greater chance of seeing their information compromised than others. One determining factor appears to be geography.
As noted recently by the Huffington Post, the Federal Trade Commission ranks states based on how likely residents are to become victims of identity theft. Leading the pack is Florida, which experiences an average of 186.3 instances of identity theft per 100,000 people. The state sees a significant amount of government benefit fraud, which is related to its high population of retired people. In particular, the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metropolitan area has some of the highest rates of identity theft in the nation.
Just behind Florida are Washington state, Washington, D.C., Oregon and Missouri.
Given that the risk of identity theft continues to rise, those who live in areas where it is common need to be particularly careful. It isn’t enough to simply be cautious. You must also create a plan to respond if your identity does end up stolen.
For the best protection, consumers should consider signing up for a credit monitoring service that can alert you to certain activity on your credit file that may be indicative of fraud.