The credit bureau, Transunion, reports that about 19 people are victimized by identity theft each minute, so people who think that they are never going to be affected by identity theft in their lifetime are fooling themselves. An identity thief can take something like a bank account number or social security number and use it to steal money from your account, create new fraudulent accounts in your name, or purchase items charged to you. In this day and age, most people know to be concerned with identity theft, but in many cases, they may not know about the specifics.
When it comes to identity theft, the simplest route for a thief is taking physical documents that have your information on them. Pickpocketing is a common method of getting such documents. 20 percent of people who know that their identity has been stolen believe that their loss was a result of a stolen wallet, according to The Bureau of Justice Statistics. Thieves might also just reach into a mailbox to take documents that contain personal information, such as bank statements, bills and credit card statements. Of course many victims make it even easier by throwing such items out in their garbage without shredding them–victims report that 88 percent of the information that identity thieves collected from them came from the trash, according to Shreddex Online.
Cutting edge technology is another vehicle that identity thieves continue to gain private information about people. As society becomes more and more dependent on smart phones, computers and tablets, more and more personal information is stored on them. Technology can be hacked or infected with malware, compromising that personal information and putting it in the hands of criminals and fraudsters. To make matters worse, your data can be stolen from other people’s devices. For instance, if your doctor’s computer gets hacked or infected, the thief will have access to your personal records, including your social security number. There is also a technique called “skimming”, in which a device is attached to an ATM or credit card reader to capture information from each card used, including the pin number. Skimming is believed to account for hundreds of millions of dollars in theft each year, according to the FBI.
One old tool data thieves use is the confidence game. Rather than attempting to steal your personal information, they simply convince you to give it to them. Some of these are “old school” telephone scams where they call and say that there is a problem with your credit card and ask you to verify your account number, but others are high-tech and very convincing internet “Phishing” scams that come from official-looking email addresses. The number of scenarios is virtually limitless, from the FBI agent checking on fraudulent credit activity to your long-lost uncle in Zimbabwe needing your bank account number so they can send you your $5 million inheritance. And if you think nobody would ever fall for something like that, keep this in mind: Every day, 8 million phishing emails are opened, 800,000 links are clicked within those emails, and 80,000 of the recipients share personal information as a result of those emails, according to Bit Rebels.
Regarding identity theft protection, there are ways to avoid each type of theft. For physical theft, keeping your purse, wallet and cell phone safe and in a less-accessible area to pickpockets is key, along with locking up personal documents and shredding them when you’re done with them. For technological threats, a good virus scanner and malware-remover can help to at least protect your own computer. Avoiding confidence games and phishing scams is as easy as using common sense. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is, and anybody who needs your bank account number probably already has it. In general, it is a good idea to watch your financial accounts and credit reports so that you know the minute something is not right. Many institutions will even let you set up email alerts to warn you of unusually large or multiple transactions, as Marketwatch reports. There are also services you can sign up for that will monitor your credit and accounts for you, for a fee. The important thing is to be aware that there are many ways your identity can be stolen, and any effort you make regarding identity theft protection is a valuable effort.