If you've never been a victim of identity fraud be thankful -- it can be an expensive and time -- consuming process to straighten out the mess left behind when thieves use your credit card information and/or other personal data to steal goods or services.
Identity fraud increased by 13 percent in 2011, with more than 11.6 million adults in the U.S. becoming its victims, according to the latest figures from Javelin Strategy and Research, which conducts an annual survey about the problem. Their report lists certain behaviors and situations that could put you at higher risk for problems.
- Many people aren't doing enough to protect their identity when using social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn or Google+. "Consumers are still sharing a significant amount of personal information frequently used to authenticate a consumer's identity," according to Javelin. For example, almost half of people with social media public profiles - those that anyone can see -- shared the month, day and year of their birth date. Stay safer by keeping your profiles private (so only friends can see them). Don't post personal information online -- once you've put it there, it can be almost impossible to get it removed.
- Do you use a smartphone? The survey also found that seven percent of smartphone users have suffered from identity theft, a percentage that's one-third higher than the average population. Many smart phone users store important personal information such as credit card numbers on their phones, and then fail to password-protect those phones or to update to the latest, most secure software. When the smartphones are lost or stolen, that information can be easily accessed and misused.
- Has a retailer, bank or other company that you've dealt with notified you that they've suffered a data breach, with someone gaining unauthorized access to customer information? You're ten times more likely to have a problem with identity fraud if that happens. You can't prevent data breaches like these, but you can monitor your credit card activity to look for any unauthorized use of it. The Javelin survey found that 43 percent of consumers were the first to detect identity fraud.
Here are a few more suggestions that will help prevent you from becoming a victim of credit card identity fraud:
- Set a specific day and time each week to review the charges on your credit card. If something doesn't look right, or if you can't identify a purchase, call your credit card company right away. It's better for you to verify that purchase with the credit card company than just ignore it and leave the door open to more fraudulent use of your card.
- Don't carry credit cards that you don't use. They won't get lost or stolen that way.
- If possible, keep your credit card with you when you're paying for a restaurant meal. Although credit card numbers no longer appear on restaurant receipts, it only takes a minute for unscrupulous restaurant personnel to copy your name, account number and security number from your card.
- Protect your identity and your credit card information when you're online. Deal only with sites that you know and trust, and make sure that they're encrypted for checkout (look for the https in the web page address.) If you're not familiar with a site, use a search engine like Google or Bing to look for reviews.
- Avoid public computers when making transactions using your credit card. It's difficult to ensure that you remove all your information.
- Use a secure wireless network at home for your transactions. When you're using your laptop or tablet in a public spot, like a coffee shop, remember the Internet connection there is not secure and that identity thieves could be gathering information from any transaction you make there.
- Getting rid of a credit card? Run a magnet along the strip on the back of the card to erase your data, then cut the card into small pieces. Be sure to cut lengthwise through your name and your account number before cutting it crosswise into smaller pieces.
If you suspect that you may be a victim of identity fraud, don't delay in taking action. One of your first moves should be to apply for a free credit report from one of the three major credit reporting agencies. You're entitled to one such report from each agency each year.
Want to learn more about identity fraud and what you can do about it? Here are some websites that offer additional information: