Identity Theft: Are you at risk?
According to recent government estimates, some 10 million people a year are victims of identity theft. Some sources estimate that annual losses related to identity theft total as much as: $50 million for individuals and $48 billion for businesses
While these figures represent an average loss of only about $500 per individ-ual, the actual impact is much higher. On average, each individual also spends some 30 hours cleaning up the effects of an identity theft attack. That's a total of about 3 million hours a year spent on recovering from the aftermath of identity theft.
What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft occurs when someone uses personal information, such as your name or address, or your Social Security, financial institution account, or credit card numbers to commit fraud, theft, or other crimes.
How Do Criminals Get Your Personal Information?
Criminals may access your personal information through high-tech methods such as hacking into your computer or capturing information from your emails. However, it is just as common for criminals to find your personal information by stealing your wallet, rummaging through trash, or ransacking your mailbox. Whether a thief uses hacking techniques or bribes a salesclerk, the result can be the same - a devastating impact on your credit rating that costs you both dollars and hours that you don't want to loose.
How Do You Detect Identity Theft?
On average, it takes an individual victim about 12 months to detect identity theft. Obviously, the longer it takes you to detect the crime, the longer the criminal has to do you harm. Monitoring your credit rating is the best way to detect identify theft. Most sources recommend that you review your credit rating at least annually.
Federal legislation passed in December of 2003 established the legal right of individuals to obtain one free credit report every twelve months. This free report can be obtained from any one of three major credit bureaus:
Implementation of the new regulation started with consumers on the West Coast in December of 2004, and eligibility will roll eastward every 3 months, until implementation is nationwide.
In conjunction with the new legislation, many commercial and non-commercial websites are currently offering "free" credit reports. While most of these sites are offering legitimate services or promotions, they require you to provide per-sonal information in exchange for the report. So, before disclosing any infor-mation, verify that the site you plan to us is safe and secure.
Are There Other Ways To Detect Identity Theft?
You may also want to subscribe to a monitoring service that automatically provides periodic credit checks. Each of the three major credit bureaus offers various ways for you to track you credit rating, from obtaining a one-time credit report for a few dollars to joining a comprehensive subscription service that notifies you immediately if there is any change in your credit rating. You can obtain additional information on these options at the previously listed websites.
In addition to monitoring your credit rating, you can also protect yourself by carefully reviewing your monthly bills and financial institution statements:
Are there charges listed that you did not make?
Are there checks listed that you did not write?
Have changes in your personal information such as address or phone num-ber been made without your knowledge?
Did you get bills from all of the companies you charged with this month? (If you're not getting all of your bills regularly, it could mean they are going di-rectly to an identity thief who's had your address changed without your knowledge.)
How Secure Are You?
Javelin Strategy and Research has a quiz posted on their website which will help you assess your safety. Are the steps you take to prevent identity theft enough? How can you protect yourself from identity theft? Take the quiz and find out.
How Do You Protect Yourself From Identity Theft?
Look for an upcoming Tip Sheet for details on protecting your identity.