Do victims have a role to play in identity theft?

Identity theft is a terrifying prospect, and unfortunately, all too common. In 2018 alone, 14.4 million people were victims of identity fraud in the United States. But surprisingly, of those 14.4 million victims, 3.3 million of them had some responsibility for the fraud committed against them.

Identity theft occurs when a person gains unauthorized access to your personal identifying information and uses it to commit fraud or other crimes. Thieves can use your name, social security number (SSN) or bank account information for a multitude of illegal activities, from someone opening a credit card in your name to a thief assuming your identity entirely.

With data breaches and cybercrimes becoming increasingly common, some cases of identity theft are beyond your control. However, there are simple steps you can take to safeguard your data and avoid playing a part in the fraud committed against you.

Protect your mail

Many identity thieves go scavenging for personal information found in mailboxes, such as from pre-screened offers for credit cards and insurance, bills or financial statements. To combat this, you may wish to invest in a document shredder or put a lock on your mailbox to safeguard sensitive information. If you’re going to be out of town for a few days, you can ask the post office to hold your mail until you return.

Guard your SSN

Your SSN is a treasured piece of information for identity thieves. For this reason, you should never carry your card in your wallet or purse. If asked for your social security number, always ask why it is needed and how it will be protected.

Use strong passwords

You must use strong and complex passwords for all of your online accounts. You should also never reuse old passwords and always add a second authentication step to reduce your risk of getting hacked. You should not rely on security questions either – answers to questions such as your mother’s maiden name or your pet’s name aren’t challenging to find.

Review credit card reports

You should monitor your credit card accounts closely and frequently to watch for unauthorized transactions. By law, the three credit reporting bureaus have to supply you with one credit report per year. You can get one report every four months to inspect them for suspicious activity.

While these actions may seem time-consuming, it’s far easier to protect your identity than it is to restore it if it’s stolen. If you believe you are the victim of identity theft, you can report your case to the Federal Trade Commission and the local authorities.