Identity theft can be a difficult crime to spot, and that may be a key reason why so many people become victims. Here are 15 facts about this growing crime that may surprise you. Knowing them, though, could give you the information you need to help protect yourself.
- Identity theft is a problem for millions of people.
Identity theft complaints increased 40 percent from 2018 to 2019, according to the Consumer Sentinel Network, maintained by the Federal Trade Commission.
- Identity theft happens regularly.
There was a victim of identity theft every 2 seconds in 2017. One reason? How easy it is for all of us to share personal information online. How many online accounts do you have? Is it time to close those accounts you no longer need or use?
- Data breaches contribute to identity theft.
A single data breach could expose enough of your personal information to make you an identity thief’s target. There were over 1,000 breaches in 2016.
- Social Security numbers are key.
Unlike credit card numbers, Social Security numbers aren’t easily replaced. If yours is lost or stolen, an identity thief could use it for years—or even wait years before using it the first time.
- Identity theft related tax fraud is real.
With your full name, birthdate, and Social Security number, a thief can readily complete and file a fraudulent tax return and claim a tax refund in your name, even if you don’t have a refund coming.
- Financial identity theft can drain your accounts.
With the right information, including your Social Security number, an identity thief can take over a bank or retirement account and steal your money before you’re able to respond. Or the identity thief could take out a new loan in your name.
- Identity thieves also target children.
A child whose identity is stolen may be victimized for years before it’s detected. That’s because children are less likely to have their credit checked until they’re old enough to apply for a job or credit card or to rent an apartment.
- Medical identity theft can be painful.
With your healthcare information, an identity thief can visit doctors and obtain medical care in your name. This could result in changes to your records that could later affect your treatment.
- Public Wi-Fi is an identity thief’s friend.
With the right tools, identity thieves can monitor what you do on public Wi-Fi, even if it’s password protected. Not only can the criminals see which websites you visit, they can also capture your credentials as you log in to bank and credit card accounts.
- Your personal information may be for sale.
A criminal doesn’t need that much data to play havoc with you and your identity—just a few pieces of information that may already be available on the dark web. That’s where thieves buy and sell everything from credit card numbers and medical records to Social Security numbers and account login info. Some of it may be yours.
- You can do everything right and still be a victim.
If there’s a data breach at your doctor’s office, school, or any other business—large or small—that has your personal information, you could be at risk of identity theft. 36 million records were breached in 2016.
- The internet can contribute to identity theft.
Share less, including on social media, where the information you post could give identity thieves clues to your birthplace, date of birth, and other data that could be used to steal your identity.
- How safe are you?
In today’s digital world, you are more likely to have your identity stolen than your car stolen or your home burglarized.
- Recovery takes time.
In 2017, over 140 million hours were spent by identity theft victims trying to solve their issues.
- No one can prevent identity theft.
Still, it pays to limit how much you share your Social Security number and other personal information—online and elsewhere.
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