Identity Theft: A Growing Problem

Last year in this article, it was pointed out that over twelve million people in the US were victims of identity theft in 2012. The current figures now indicate that nineteen Americans become victims of identity theft every minute; a staggering number that leaves approximately 15 million people affected annually by this fast growing crime, with financial losses of around $50 billion.

With family members responsible for more than 30% of identity theft, the holiday season can be a difficult time of year for some victims. Add to this percentage, the other 18% of identity theft victims that are defrauded by friends and neighbors or have had their data stolen by visitors to their home.

Then there are the estimated 100 million people that have their personal information placed at risk each year when records maintained in government and corporate databases are lost or stolen. For example, the mass hacking attacks against Target, Home Depot, JPMorgan Chase and other financial institutions.

These disturbing statistics make public that identity theft could possibly be the most common, expensive and unavoidable crime in the United States.

Old fashioned identity theft

With all the potential for growth in cyber crime, the good old fashioned methods of identity theft are as popular as ever. For the average burglar, lacking sophisticated computer skills, stealing mail, wallets, purses, papers and documents and even dumpster diving provide simple ways of accessing personal information.

The gathering of your data gives a burglar an additional income stream once the high end electronics and jewelry are sold, proving the original methods of identity theft are still viable.

Expanded reach

As the techniques used to perform identity theft expand, the varieties of accounts and services being stolen increases. Not so long ago credit cards, debit cards, checking and saving accounts were the preferred targets but nowadays, identity fraud includes cell and land-line phone services, cable and satellite TV services, utilities services and a whole host of other financial services including government benefits. Stolen identities are also used to obtain employment and mislead police if apprehended.

With ‘Black Friday’ today followed by ‘Cyber Monday’, online purchases are set to peak this weekend and as sales spiral, so does the risk of cyber crime. Consumers should always buy from reputable online businesses with web sites using encrypted connections.

Identity theft is big business with fraudsters targeting your personal financial information for their own use. Scams include phishing, using email to make contact, vishing where swindlers approach you via phone and smishing, when you are contacted by text.

Protect yourself

The classic methods of stealing personal data through traditional property crimes such as burglary or theft committed by people invited into your home are still common. The one factor you can control is what’s available to an identity thief who invades your home.

Our homes usually have a vast quantity of personal information gathered over the years. Documents can include birth certificates, passports, tax information, financial documentation, legal documents and Social Security information. Along with other personal data like passwords and personal identification numbers (PINs), these all add up to a huge haul

The simple solution is to reduce your personal data; lock away the information you have to keep and shred everything else. Law enforcement professionals suggest the following:

  • A fireproof safe
  • Sturdy fireproof locking file cabinets (for documents containing personal data)
  • A safety deposit box at a bank (for critical personal documents, not often used)
  • A good cross-cut shredder – All material (that’s not needed) containing personal identifying information, even your name, shred immediately.

You should assess the documents you’re storing each year and shred any documents that are no longer needed.

None of us like to think that our family, friends or guests in our homes would repay our hospitality by stealing personal information. Statistics give us a different picture; a major part of identity theft is committed by those the victim knows personally or has invited into their home to perform services. Lock your information away, out of sight and out of reach of a possible identity thief.

Take the precautions you’ll find here on SafeResidence, layer your burglar deterrents, make your home the most unattractive target in your neighborhood and remember, for true crime prevention, nothing beats a wireless home security system.

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