The crime of identity theft, unfortunately, is still very widespread according to the recently released Annual Report on Consumer Fraud (view report
- Over 1.3 million complaints were received by the CSN (Consumer Sentinel Network) during 2010: 54% fraud complaints; 19% identity theft complaints; and 27% other types of complaints.
- Identity theft was the number one complaint category in the CSN for calendar year 2010 with 19% of the overall complaints.
- A total of 725,087 CSN 2010 complaints were fraud-related. Consumers reported paying over $1.7 billion in those fraud complaints; the median amount paid was $594.
Identity theft topped the list as the number one fraud complaint for the 11th consecutive year with more than 250,000 complaints. Based on these numbers and trends, it is clear that individuals and businesses still need to take more precautionary measures to prevent this crime. Yet, criminals continue to find new ways to exploit weaknesses and develop scams, so keeping up with security precautions can feel overwhelming. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of suggestions that you can begin using today to ensure you are protecting yourself and your business from fraud:
- Review credit reports. This commonsense step is critical because the sooner you suspect your personal credit or business has become compromised, the quicker you can swing into action by notifying credit agencies, banks, etc.
- Consider freezing your credit report. Both individuals and businesses are commonly victimized by criminals stealing credit card offers, opening accounts and racking up fraudulent charges on them. While freezing your credit account costs about $30, it prevents anyone from opening new accounts. *The downside is that this freeze must be lifted every time you apply for credit.
- Secure your computers and wireless connections. Protect your computer from viruses and attacks by using a security programs and scheduling routine scans. It isn’t enough to simply have the security software installed; it also needs to be updated regularly as new threats occur. If your home or business uses wireless internet, the network needs to be secured and password protected.
- Get an employer identification number (EIN). An EIN is a nine-digit number assigned to a business by the IRS, and by obtaining one, your business can use this number on paperwork as opposed to your personal social security number. By limiting the use of your social security number, you’re reducing the chances of it being seen and stolen.
- Shred all documents that contain sensitive information. While this tip is the law for business owners, it truly cannot be overemphasized when considering personal and professional security. From credit solicitations to billing receipts and more, your mailbox, recycling bin and garbage are attractive targets for thieves. Consider using a reputable third-party shredding provider to ensure all documents are destroyed securely and thoroughly.
- Extend your thinking beyond financial identity theft. While most of us think about identity theft in terms of fraudulent purchases, thieves also target medical and criminal record identity theft. These crimes involve people making medical charges under a false identity or even committing crimes using someone else’s name. For individuals, these crimes underscore the importance of monitoring all of your personal information. For businesses, it is an important reminder that thieves are looking for more than just social security numbers and credit card information.
These tips and action items provide practical ways to reduce your personal and professional vulnerability to the crime of identity theft.