Identity theft incidents on the rise
Like all things that change and evolve over time, the level of sophistication used in identity theft is also evolving. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported 5.7 million fraud and identity theft cases were filed in 2021, amounting to more than $5.8 billion in losses. Alarmingly, the number of cases rose 70% from 2020. With an incident occurring every 22 seconds, 33% of Americans have faced some form of identity theft at some point in their lives.
While the category of identity theft is broad, it most often is the result of an account takeover, someone opening an unauthorized account using a victim’s name, or other personal information (such as Social Security number) being stolen for financial gain.
Identity theft can also take “special” forms such as tax identity theft, child identity theft, and medical identity theft. Visit www.identitytheft.gov for more information about these as well as some steps you can take if you believe you are a victim of one or more of them.
Recovering from identity theft can be a time consuming, expensive, and frustrating experience. Sometimes it can take years to unravel. It can affect your credit scores, your ability to secure a home mortgage, and otherwise compromise your financial and social well-being. Some people don’t even realize they are a victim until such time as they personally attempt to open a new account, sign-up for a new credit card, or begin receiving suspicious notices from companies with whom they have no previous interaction.
The most important thing consumers can do to help prevent and protect themselves is to take proper precautions with your information. Social media represents a great opportunity for would-be thieves. Posting photos that may show your home address in the background, for example, provides information you don’t intend to share. Leaving bank statements visible by visitors (even family members) or service providers leaves you open to potential information theft. Prompting you to respond to on-line requests for money using credit card or gift cards is a widely-used tactic among thieves. Do not share your social security information, birthdate, drivers license information or other such personally identifiable information via text or email even with people you know. Get in the habit of checking your credit report and be familiar with how to set up fraud alerts and/or how to freeze your credit.
If you suspect that you are a victim of identity theft, contact the companies where you know the fraud occurred to report. Visit identitytheft.gov to file a report and inform your financial advisor.