Identity theft is devastating, with an average of $500 in losses most commonly from credit card fraud according to the FTC. Theft of important personal identification information such as social security numbers enables thieves to pose as their victims to empty bank accounts, open new credit cards, reroute tax refunds, and even use insurance for medical treatments and procedures. Even more than theft of money, identity theft steals the victim’s peace of mind.
Effects of Identity Theft
Anyone can become a victim of identity theft, and the effects are often long lasting. Emotional and behavioral consequences of identity theft can continue for years after the crime has taken place and leave victims feeling vulnerable and desperate. The Identity Theft Resource Center’s survey “Identity Theft: The Aftermath 2013” revealed that almost 70 percent felt afraid about their financial security, and half of them reported feeling helpless, betrayed, angry, ashamed, embarrassed, and overwhelmingly sad. Some felt suicidal.
Dealing with the aftermath of identity theft takes a significant amount of time to follow up with creditors and financial institutions. Often, even if fraud is proven, credit histories are destroyed and interest rates are multiplied.
How You’re Vulnerable
Most of us keep our personal identification in our wallets and at home, and can recognize when a piece of paper or card is missing. But there are many more ways identity is subject to theft.
If you carry all of your personal identifying information with you each day in your purse or wallet, you will have to replace more than just your driver’s license and credit card when it’s lost or stolen. The most common stolen information is a victim’s Social Security number, along with credit card numbers, your name, e-mail address, and birth date. If this information is all accessible in one place, you are vulnerable to identity theft.
Online you’re vulnerable from unsafe surfing on the Internet with a wireless connection or through online banking with a public computer. If you don’t keep your anti-virus information up-to-date, or if you open email attachments from unknown sources, you are also at risk.
How to Protect Yourself
With advances in technology and social media, many people are online throughout the day via multiple devices, multiplying the opportunities to expose personal identifying information. Important precautions include:
- Ensuring protection through services like LifeLock.
- Regularly changing passwords on the computing devices you use to go online.
- Avoiding posting personal information on social media.
- Checking credit reports regularly.
- Using free smartphone apps cautiously.
- More ways are listed here.
If you suspect identity theft, the FTC recommends placing a fraud alert on whatever accounts are suspect, ordering your credit reports, and filing an Identity Theft Affidavit.