Identity theft is running rampant in the United States with tens of millions of people being affected each year and tens of millions of dollars lost. According to FTC.org, identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America.
However, many Americans have no idea how bad it has become. As of December 2014, Washington State ranked as the second highest state for identity theft. We ranked just behind Florida and just in front of Oregon in identity theft complaints per population. Last year, victims of identity theft in Washington State lost $43.9 million. On average, an individual victim lost $2,704.
Unfortunately, there is no one who rides in on a white horse and saves identity theft victims. It is each individual's responsibility to deal with his or her own identity theft. Therefore, we all need to be diligent about protecting our personal information. Listed below are some tips that can help you keep your personal information protected.
- Don't carry your SSN or PINs in your wallet or purse: Memorize them and leave them in a safe location.
- Shred documents that contain your personal information before disposing.
- Carry only the identification and credit or debit cards you will need.
- Leave the rest locked in a safe place.
- Don't leave outgoing mail in your own mailbox.
- Provide your SSN only when absolutely necessary. Find out why it is needed and ask if you can use a different form of identification instead.
- Never provide information to an unsolicited request, unless you verify it first.
- Cancel credit cards that you no longer need or use. When canceling, make sure it is noted as "Closed at consumer's request."
- Never be intimidated. Intimidation is the number one tool available to identity thieves.
- Don't click hyperlinks in emails. Even if the email is from your friend.
- Treat your smartphone like a computer.
- Use online/mobile banking to your advantage.
- Check your balance frequently.
- Take advantage of free help from your financial institution and credit card companies.
- Never give out your SSN online.
- Safely store financial/personal information on your computer.
- Consider using an external hard drive, and keep it in a secure location when not in use.
- Respond quickly to an identity theft attack. The faster you respond, the more likely you are to minimize the affect.
- Access your online account from a secure location. McDonald's and Starbucks are not secure locations.
- Use passwords that are at least eight characters in length and include some special characters.
- Change passwords regularly.
- Protect your computer by regularly updating your security software.
- Check for encryption when visiting websites.
Trust your gut. If something doesn't feel right, then it probably isn't.