With summer just around the corner many people are planning vacations and preparing to travel. Traveling can be a time when risk of identity theft increases since we use credit cards frequently.
Identity theft is a serious crime that is increasing at an alarming rate. About 1 in 7 U.S. residents over age 16 was a victim in 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Misusing someone's credit card account is the most common kind of identity theft. According to a recent survey compiled by the US Federal Trade Commission, more than 3 million Americans have recently experienced illegal use of their credit cards. Fortunately, this is the easiest type of identity theft to address because most credit cards have zero-liability policies.
A more damaging form of identity theft can occur if someone has enough personal information about you to open credit accounts in your name. A study by Javelin Strategy & Research says new account fraud now makes up 20% of losses resulting from fraud.
It is important to keep in mind steps you can take to prevent identity theft. Here are 10 ways to reduce your risk:
- Safeguard your social security number. Your social security number is a master key to your personal data so guard it carefully. Keep your card in a safe place and never carry it with you. If you are asked for your number, ask why it is needed and how it will be protected.
- Use strong passwords. Random combinations of letters, numbers and special characters are best, and it is advised to use a different login ID and password for each account. Commonly used terms like your mother's maiden are not hard so should be avoided.
- Be aware of the information you share. Can strangers see your full name, birthdate and family members' names on Facebook? Would you give any of that information to an unknown caller asking the right questions? Do not share personal information over the phone, through the mail, or over the internet unless you initiated the contact or know the person you are dealing with.
- Protect your mail. Promptly remove incoming mail, and do not leave bill payment envelopes in your mailbox with the flag up for pick up by mail carrier. Instead, deposit them in a post office collection box or at the local post office. Promptly stop your mail delivery when you're out of town. Consider a USPS-approved lockable mailbox.
- Shred it. Any credit card or bank statements that someone could find in your trash should not be there. Shred junk mail also, especially pre-approved offers of credit.
- Use caution while shopping. The FTC advises: Know where your wallet is at all times; be careful with your debit or credit card (store it carefully in a closed wallet or purse, not in a coat pocket); don't share your PIN (and never keep it with or near your card).
- Protect mobile devices with passwords. Mobile devices can be a real risk, particularly if they are not password-protected. Keep software updated and use hard-to-guess passwords and two-factor identification whenever available. Turn off Bluetooth unless you are using it. Remember that when you use public wifi others may be able to see your data. Be cautious in downloading free apps, which can contain malware.
- Check credit reports regularly. Everyone is entitled to one free credit report each year from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus. Consider requesting one report every four months, so you can check for suspicious or incorrect information throughout the year. If you watch your credit scores, be alert for any large unexplained change.
- Monitor financial statements. Read your credit card and bank statements. Make sure you recognize each charge, no matter how small. Know your due dates and call to investigate if you do not receive an expected bill. Read your health insurance claims and make sure you actually received the care your insurance paid for.
- Be smart with email. Don't open emails or click on email links if you don't recognize the sender.
With the increasing risks of identity theft it is well worth considering the benefits of including identity theft coverage in your homeowner's insurance policy. Many insurance companies provide ID Theft/Recovery Protection for little to no cost at all. Chances are you already have it built in to your coverage plan. Our Safeco home policies include Identity Recovery coverage and all of our PEMCO policies include ID Smart for free. Give us a ring if you'd like more information.