MasterCard recently conducted a survey gauging the average American’s feelings on identity theft and what they’re doing, if anything, to protect themselves against the risk of fraud. The bad news: nationwide anxiety over the possibility of ID theft has never been higher. The good news: increased anxiety is a result of greater awareness, which has more Americans committed to paying better attention to identity protection measures.
An overwhelming majority of the poll’s respondents (77 percent) said that they were anxious about their Social Security Numbers being stolen or their financial information compromised. Not only is this a huge percentage of people in its own right, but this concern also dwarfs other concerns cited in the survey, such as having their email accounts hacked (62 percent) or their homes broken into and robbed (59 percent).
“Oh, it’s very scary. It’s like that could happen to me,” college-bound Imani Davis tells Bay News 9. “If they can breach government databases, they can just breach someone’s account, any of us.”
While it’s not particularly healthy to live in a constant state of anxiety and fear, the silver lining to this realization is that more people than ever are now aware of the dangers posed by identity thieves and what steps can be taken to protect their identities. Unfortunately, many of these same people have yet to act on these steps.
Although 92 percent of the survey’s respondents said they believe they’re taking the appropriate identity theft protection measures already, 46 percent “rarely or never” change the passwords for their online financial accounts, 44 percent use the same password across multiple accounts and 39 percent check these accounts while on public, unsecured Wi-Fi networks. All three of these three behaviors are major red flags that can make you significantly more vulnerable to identity fraud.
“Our survey reveals there’s a sharp contrast between what people say or think they are doing to protect their information and what they actually do,” said Carolyn Balfany, MasterCard’s SVP of U.S. Product Delivery, in a press release. “In today’s digital age, we need the strong combination of what we all can do ourselves to keep our information as safe as possible.”
Despite the overwhelming concern that can often surround matters involving identity theft, there are plenty of common-sense measures you can adopt into your daily routine to better protect your identity. For one thing, you should take the opposite course of action of the three behaviors mentioned above — that is, do keep unique passwords for each of your different accounts, do change them regularly and don’t do anything involving sensitive personal information (e.g. Social Security or credit card numbers) while on a public internet connection.
It may also behoove you to pay closer attention your credit history for any telltale signs of fraud. Everyone is entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three credit reporting bureaus. Whether you choose to spread these throughout the year or request them all at once, make sure to take advantage of this offer in order to take a closer look at what’s happening on your credit file.
Also consider signing up for a credit monitoring services that can handle the legwork for you. This handy resource will oversee your credit history and alert you in the event that certain activity appears on your credit file that may be evidence of fraud.