In today’s technologically-advanced world, a new breed of criminal has arisen. Hackers can steal a wealth of information using just a computer. One of the most common forms of cybercrime is Identity theft. Identity theft is a crime where a thief steals your personal information, such as your full name or social security number, to commit fraud. The identity thief can use your information to fraudulently apply for credit, file taxes, or get medical services. These acts can damage your credit status, and cost you time and money to restore your good name. You may not know that you are the victim of identity theft until you experience a financial consequence (mystery bills, credit collections, and denied loans) down the road from actions that the thief has taken with your stolen identity.
In the past six years, identity thieves have stolen over $107 billion. In 2016 alone, $16 billion was stolen from 15.4 million U.S. consumers. In 2015, the United States introduced credit cards equipped with a microchip that makes them more difficult to counterfeit, however Identity thieves have explored new ways to commit fraud. Thieves have focused on ‘new account’ fraud, which is when a thief opens a credit card or other financial account using a victim’s name and other stolen personal information. Computers have made things more convenient for consumers, but it’s also allowed criminals to prey upon victims in new ways. With this in mind, there are some things you can do to help limit the information you put out onto the web and help to prevent identity theft.
- Secure your Social Security number (SSN). Only give out your SSN when completely necessary and never carry your social security card in your wallet
- Collect your mail promptly. Thieves will sometimes steal mail to collect sensitive information. Also remember to place a hold on your mail when you are away from home for several days
- Don’t respond to unsolicited requests for personal information by mail, phone, or online
- You can place a freeze on your credit reports by contacting the three credit reporting agencies
- Keep track of your billing cycles. If bills or other financial statements are late, contact the sender
- Shred receipts, credit offers, account statements, and expired credit cards to prevent thieves from stealing your personal information
- Store all personal information in a safe and secure place at home and at work
- Remember to install firewalls and virus-detection software on your home computer, as well as creating complex passwords that no one can easily guess
- Review your credit card and bank-account statements, as well as your credit report to be certain no unauthorized transactions have taken place and no unauthorized accounts have been opened
Recently, there was a data breach at Equifax (which is one of the three major credit reporting agencies in the U.S.) where the personal information of 143 million consumers was accessed. The compromised information includes Social Security numbers, birthdates, addresses, and driver’s license numbers. To learn if you were impacted by the breach, you can visit Equifax’s website devoted to this breach where you can also sign up for a credit monitoring program. You should be aware of the fact that if you do sign up for Equifax’s monitoring program, you may be waiving your rights to bring a lawsuit against them. Franklin D. Azar & Associates is currently exploring cases related to the breach. If you or a loved one has had their personal information compromised by the Equifax breach, call us today for a free consultation.