Identity Theft On The Rise: Here’s How You Can Avoid The Hassle

From 2011 to 2012, the rising tide of identity theft affected one million additional victims, according to numbers from the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.). Hackers and cyber predators typically stay ahead of the consumer in their operating tactics, so there’s no reason to think that the numbers are any smaller for 2013. This is something to be concerned about as you hit the stores — both online and brick-and-mortar — in search of the perfect gifts for your loved ones.

While you may not have the technical know-how to dodge every scheme, there are proactive steps you can take to either avoid the issue or fight back. Just like with car theft, identity thieves gravitate towards the easy mark. Unfortunately, they can always find a victim. Here’s how you can remove the bullseye from your bank and credit accounts.


One: When Shopping Online, Watch For The ’S.’

Most hackers do not have either the ability or the patience to break in to a secure online storefront. As a result, most online shoppers can steer clear as long as they’re purchasing from sites that use “https://“ instead of “http://“ for conducting commerce. It’s amazing what a difference one little letter can make to a consumer’s safety, but it really does. That’s because https:// sites utilize something called secure sockets layer (SSL) encryption while their non-s counterparts do not, making them more vulnerable for anyone with even a remote interest in wreaking online havoc.


Two: Shred Financial Information When You No Longer Need It.

Credit card numbers aren’t as hard to obtain as you might think. Leaving your signed receipt on the table at a restaurant may not do the trick — after all, the thief would need 12 more digits from your card AND the CVV code on the back of the card itself — but that doesn’t mean you’re bulletproof. Losing cards happens more often than you think, and once they can see the front and back of your plastic long enough to get those numbers, you’re at their mercy.


Three: Obtain A Mobile App For Your Bank And Check It Religiously.

If your bank doesn’t have a mobile app for your smartphone, then you really should think about banking somewhere else. This is a sign that they may be behind in the technology department, and that alone will make them a hacker’s dream come true. So assuming your bank has a mobile app, download it to your smartphone, and check it every day. It only takes a few seconds, and it can reveal records of deposits and withdrawals immediately. Constant monitoring will also save you from the drudgery of balancing your checkbook once a month because you’ll know immediately if something is out of the ordinary.


Four: Don’t Think That Avoiding Online Shopping Makes You Safe. It Doesn’t.

While most Internet users have grown more comfortable with conducting business online, there are still a few holdouts that would rather shop in stores because of the mythological security that it provides. In reality, thieves are just as capable of rigging a credit card reader as they are hacking a database of financial information.

One recent example of this comes from Target stores, which reported that about 40 million credit and debit card accounts may have been affected by a likely “skimming” breach between November 27 and December 15.

Consumers cannot prevent this from happening, but they can avoid the damage by referring back to tip number three.


Five: Don’t Go Phishing. It’s Not As Fun As It Sounds.

Of course, here we’re talking about phishing scams, not the Saturday morning food gathering activity that mankind has been dealing in for centuries. Phishing is usually done by email, though some thieves have started to enjoy the text message as a modus operandi as well. In a phishing scam, the thief will generally pose as a financial institution and hope that he fools you. To avoid it, never conduct business through an email or text message. Type in the actual address of your financial institution. Do NOT follow links from the email. Once you’ve arrived at the legitimate website, log in to your account and see if there are any urgent messages.

(Hint: there won’t be. If a financial institution really, really needs to get ahold of you due to “urgent business,” they’re not going to do it via email.)


Six: Purchase Identity Theft Insurance.

If identity theft insurance isn’t a part of standard homeowners or renters coverage — in many cases, it is — then customers should consider purchasing an endorsement from their insurance agent. I.I.I. notes that this is one of the most affordable coverages that a customer can pick up with most endorsements offering protection at $25 to $50 per year ($2 to $5 per month).


In Summary

With the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimating that nine million Americans are the target of identity theft each year, it’s clear that the problem isn’t going away. There will always be a ready pool of victims, and the holidays especially will always bring out the baddies. But by following the simple tips presented here, you can ensure that identity theft doesn’t have a significant impact on your life, and you may even be able to avoid it altogether.

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