In 2015 identity theft complaints were the second most reported complaint to the Federal Trade Commission, increasing more than 47 percent from 2014, according to the FTC.
There are several different kinds of identity theft or fraud. Here are some of the most common types:
- New Account Creation – With this type of identity theft, thieves are able to convince credit card companies and other lenders that they are you. They usually have your Social Security number and other personal identifiable information (PII). They are able to open up credit cards, apply for mortgages, rent an apartment, or buy or lease a car in your name. This type can be harder to identify because the victim doesn’t know the accounts exist.
- Tax Identity Theft – Thieves use your information to file fake tax returns with the IRS. They are targeting your tax refund.
- Criminal Identity Theft – Criminals will use your identity to hide theirs. They might attempt to working under your identity as well. This can be difficult to undo.
- Existing Account Fraud – Also known as credit or debit card fraud. This occurs when a thief gets their hands on a copy of a credit or debit card number and start shopping! About 17 percent of all identity thefts occur with credit cards according to the non-profit Identity Theft Resource center.
Follow these tips to protect yourself against identity theft or fraud:
- Monitor your credit card and bank account statements often for transactions that you don’t recognize. Often, thieves will start with very small dollar amounts assuming you will overlook them.
- Monitor your credit report to see when your credit report is being run by a bank, car dealership, landlord, etc. Look into credit monitoring services. Use websites like Credit Karma or memberships to major credit reporting agencies to personally monitor your credit each month, or at the very least, each year. Credit report agencies are required to give you a free copy of your credit report annually.
- Dispute inaccurate credit information via credit monitoring agencies.
- Use a personal message on your credit report. For example, “Contact John Smith at 123-456-7890 prior to extending credit.”
- Be careful where you use your credit card and use credit cards with identity theft protection.
- Protect your social security number and other PII. Secure your PII at home or on cell phones with password encryption. Do not give out your PII to individuals that contact you over the internet or by telephone.
- File your taxes as early as possible to beat thieves to the punch.
Identity theft can be costly, not only to consumers but also businesses. The consumer suffers monetary loses and a decreased credit score, while a business’s reputation can ultimately be damaged. Ultimately, YOU as the consumer have to be in control of protecting your personal credit and information.