There was a time, not that long ago, when news stories about identity theft were so pervasive that it struck fear in the hearts of most Americans. Self-promoting salesmen used scare tactics to sell security products and the media regularly used the subject to keep you tuned in to the evening news. While the issue isn’t at the forefront of what we watch and read anymore, identity theft is still a threat, with the number of identity fraud victims at more than 11.5 million annually, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
Identity Theft was the number one complaint category in the Consumer Sentinel Network (CNS), a database of consumer complaints available only to law enforcement, for calendar year 2012. Victims of this insidious crime who suffer the most are those who were unaware of the crimes being committed over a long period of time and had all of their personal accounts and information jeopardized. The hardest statistic to accept is that nearly half of all identity theft is committed by someone you know – a family member, coworker, service technician, etc.
Detecting Compromised Accounts
As the thieves become wiser, they’ve resorted to tactics that draw less attention from lenders, without alerting consumers. Identity thieves often do their stealing over time and avoid making large purchases that might draw unwanted attention. According to a December 2012 survey, two-thirds of consumers who had fraudulent charges were the first to recognize the unauthorized activity, demonstrating an awareness of the importance of self-monitoring. Banks and credit card companies are more likely to flag large, unusual purchases and will call to verify the purchase. Companies that you do business with who have had a breach in security will also notify you of the possibility of your account being compromised.
Physically compromised information may be more obvious. It’s hard not to notice when your wallet or purse go missing, but a specific piece of lost or stolen identification may not be as quickly realized. Mail that’s been tampered with or statements that don’t arrive on time are also signs that you may be targeted for identity theft.
Be the First Line of Defense
Consumers should not expect their financial institutions to be their first line of defense. While banks and lenders continue to put new measures in place to stay ahead of the crooks, their efforts are not always full-proof. In addition, an attitude of invincibility on the part of consumers and slacking pn following safety measures is a sure way to increase the odds of becoming the next victim. We still need to be vigilant in securing our personal data to make it more difficult for the bad guys.
As a team player, your efforts assist lending institutions, merchants and law enforcement in keeping consumer information out of the hands of thieves. If you suspect information has been physically compromised, you need to take immediate action.
If Your Information is Compromised
- Contact every institution involved by phone to explain your concern
- Cancel or put accounts on hold
- Change ALL passwords to emails and online services and blogs, no matter how insignificant you may think the account may be
- Have new account numbers and cards issued
- File a report with the local police
- Seek the advice of a financial expert
By law, financial institutions must begin an investigation once fraud has been reported. If the fraud has caused any non-sufficient funds charges or other associated fees, make sure they are immediately removed to avoid confusion later. You are only obligated to pay up to $50 in unauthorized charges if you notify the institution within 30 days.
Before you become the next victim, establish a solid plan for preventing theft and safeguarding your personal assets and information by monitoring your credit reports. Request copies from Experian, TransUnion and Equifax at least once every six
months – more often if you’ve been a victim of identity theft in the past. Continue to diligently oversee all your accounts and report all suspicious activity. You’ll be doing your part to thwart thieves, while protecting your financial integrity.