(ModernSurvival.org) – Identity theft has been a serious issue for many years now. Unfortunately, the frequency of these crimes has skyrocketed as people become more digitally dependent, leading to billions of dollars worth of losses in America alone. Data shows that in 2021, roughly 5.7 million Americans became victims of identity fraud — up from 4.7 million the prior year.
So what can you do to avoid becoming the next victim in this rising crime wave? What can you do after it has already happened?
What is Identity Theft?
Every American citizen has an identity in the system. Identifying information includes a person’s social security number (SSN) issued at birth, name and address, medical accounts, credit card accounts, bank accounts, and more. Crafty criminals who gain access to this information use it for nefarious purposes by opening up new credit card accounts or taking money directly from their victims (such as draining their bank accounts). In extreme situations, an identity thief may even get married using their victim’s name.
How to Protect Yourself
With acts of identity theft on the rise, it’s more important than ever to learn preventative measures to defend yourself. Begin by securing all digital and hard copies of your personal information, preferably in a safe. Items you should consider locking down include:
- Social Security card
- Bank account information
- Birth certificate
- Medicare card
- Credit card information
- Information about any other accounts on or offline connected to your bank account (for example, PayPal).
Identity fraudsters often obtain information on potential victims by raiding mailboxes for credit card statements and other information they can use. To prevent this, remove your mail from the mailbox as soon as possible after it’s delivered.
In addition, be sure to shred any sensitive documents with identifiable information. Don’t just black them out. Criminals have developed methods to remove this.
Protect Your Social Security Number
Certain organizations will require your SSN. here is no getting around it. For example, financial institutions will need it when you apply to open a new account. Your employer, bank, and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) might also require it. You must never give this number out unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Legitimate organizations that should have access to your SSN, such as the government, will not call, email, or text you asking for it. Receiving such requests through these forms of communication is a good sign someone is trying to scam you. To keep your SSN safe, ask the following questions when asked for it:
- Why do you need my SSN?
- May I give you only my last four SSN digits?
- What’s the alternative method to ensure you’re speaking with the right person?
- What security systems do you have in place to protect my SSN?
Online Fraud Protection
Fraud can occur online in the blink of an eye. Thankfully, it’s easy to prevent if you take the proper precautions. Set up strong passwords (16 characters or more) for all your accounts and utilize multi-factor or two-factor authentication whenever possible. A secure password saver, such as LastPass, is also advisable.
As a rule of thumb, never pass out sensitive information on social media, like your home address, credit card numbers, or SSN. While you may think the information is safe, hackers can access the information — even from private messages.
What to Do After Experiencing Identity Theft
If you’ve experienced identity theft, do not be embarrassed or ashamed. You’re not alone. Even the savviest consumers fall victim to fraud, and the best preventions aren’t 100% effective.
If you suspect you’ve fallen victim to identity theft, visit IdentityTheft.gov for immediate resources. Inform members of your household and legitimate institutions (especially your bank) of the situation as soon as possible. The faster you act, the less damage a fraudster will inflict.
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