Here are some ways to help protect your identity.
Identity theft is the fastest growing fraud scheme in the United States. It has been estimated that nearly 27 million Americans have been victimized over the last five years. Ten million Americans discovered they were victims of some form of ID theft in the last 12 months. Nearly seven million Americans discovered their credit card or other account information had been misused in the last 12 months. More than three million Americans discovered their personal information had been misused in the last 12 months for "new account fraud" designed to open new accounts and take out loans.
On the average, victims reported spending approximately $500 to deal with their identity theft experience. Victims of the more serious "new accounts and other frauds" form of identity theft spend on average nearly $1,200. Identity theft of all types cost victims an estimated $5 billion in the last 12 months.
Victims of identity theft spent an estimated 297 million hours recovering from identity theft last year alone. About 194 million hours from "new accounts and other fraud," while roughly 100 million hours were spent dealing with the misuse of existing accounts.
Here are some ways to help protect your identity:
Shred all junk mail, credit card applications, and items that have your name, SSN, address, date of birth or other pertinent personal information BEFORE you throw it in the trash.
When paying bills via U.S. Mail, deposit the bill into a LOCKED mailbox. Do not put it in your mailbox if it is not secured. ID thieves will cruise neighborhoods looking for the "red flag" on mailboxes, take your bills, and alter your personal checks or use the checks to get your account number and order additional checks.
If your monthly or quarterly bank and/or credit card statements fail to arrive, immediately contact your financial institution and/or credit card company.
If your financial institution or credit card company offers online viewing of your outstanding checks and charges, monitor your account on a daily or every other day basis. Look for checks you did not write or charges you did not authorize.
Sign your credit cards. If you don't someone else will.
Do not carry your Social Security card in your purse or wallet. In addition, look at other items you carry to determine if they have your SSN on them. If your driver's license is your SSN, change it. Remember, ID thieves only need your SSN, name, and address to steal your ID.
If you suspect you may have been a victim of ID theft, follow the instructions below immediately. Waiting two or three days can cause problems down the road.
Due to the rising number of occurrences of identity theft, the Credit Union National Association adopted a program (required under the FACTA which became law last year) issuing one free credit report each year to consumers. This program is designed to encourage consumers to regularly check their credit report to ensure that the information contained in the report is accurate and also provides an opportunity to the consumer to look for possible signs of identity theft.
The website to request your free credit report is Annual Credit Report.