Identity theft is a major threat to consumers of all ages. From infants to adolescents to adults, identity theft is a costly and potentially life-changing crime.
According to a February 2011 Javelin Strategy & Research report, more than 8.1 million identities were stolen in 2010. On average, victims were responsible for paying $631 in out-of-pocket costs, such as those to cover fraudulent debt or legal fees, which is a significant rise from $387 in 2009. The California-based market research firm says the increase may stem from thieves focusing more on new account debit card fraud.
The climbing costs may provide individuals with even more incentive to secure credit protection and other helpful services that may allow them to better monitor their credit reports and scores. While a credit and fraud protection program can be a great asset, consumers should also make sure to take the proper steps to lower their risk of identity theft.
Here are six tips that may help you better defend against thieves.
1. Avoid throwing away any private documentation — bills, credit card offers, bank statements — that contains personal identifying details without first running it through a paper shredder.
2. Take receipts after a purchase and check their listed amounts against credit card bills. This approach may help a person identify any fraudulent charges on his or her statements.
3. People should avoid carrying their Social Security cards out of their home unless it’s absolutely necessary. Similarly, they should not share their nine-digit numbers with anyone unless they’ve properly verified the person or company.
4. Individuals who plan to take a vacation should ask to have their mail delivery temporarily suspended. Taking this approach may help prevent thieves from pilfering important financial material from mailboxes while people are out of town.
5. Use a different password for each online account. Consumers who use the same codes across all of their accounts run the risk of having all of their information exposed if a single account is compromised. In addition to using a variety of different passwords, individuals should also make sure to construct their keys with a combination of numbers, capital letters, and, if possible, symbols.
6. Researching and staying abreast of the latest online fraud tactics may help consumers protect their credit reports and scores from an identity theft-related scheme. Knowing what scams are out there can help individuals practice safer Web browsing behavior.