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Identity Theft: How Easy Is It To Become You?

by Scott Lewis

According to CNNMoney, 47% of American adults had their personal information exposed by hackers in 2014! That translates to 76 million households that were impacted by a major bank breach, according to J.P. Morgan and as reported in Forbes. In all, 5.2% of U.S. adults fell victim to identity fraud in 2014, according to Javelin Strategy & Research. These numbers are expected to continue to grow as we embrace more and more electronic consumerism and more and more systems become connected.

This is where if you were a conspiracy enthusiast, you would become highly concerned about who at a higher level may be looking at your personal records, such as credit scores, health records and buying habits.

When you think about who might become the best and biggest targets for identity theft, there are several big groups. Are you part of one of them?

1) Social media users are a prime target. Oversharing on social media can make you a victim. There are pieces of data that are required for me to become you; one may be your date of birth. Is that on your Facebook page? Your address, maybe your cell phone number, or maybe even your mother’s name or maiden name – anyone can use that as your safe word? Don’t overshare your personal information.

2) Credit card companies have gotten to be pretty good at using patterns to track your buying habits, your locations of purchases and many other spending habits. They do this because they are looking for the exceptions to those spending habits; then they can use that data to lock your account and protect you and them. However, big retailers and banks are always going to be prime targets for hacking, so the risk of you being involved is much greater if you are a high user of credit cards.

3) Smartphone users are one-third more likely to fall prey to identity theft than the general public, according to LifeLock. We are using our smartphones now for just about everything, from making hotel reservations to filing our taxes and doing our banking. All that information is being stored and generated on our smartphones. You need to take the same protections and safeguards on your smartphone as you do your computer, creating strong passwords, using anti-virus software and being cautious about using free Wi-Fi services – use your carrier first.

4) Your children are a great soft target. Yes, your kids. Most have Social Security numbers, and we love to show our kids off and overshare on social media, which creates opportunities for identity theft. Children’s Social Security numbers are a hot commodity because they are clean, with no credit history and no tracking or trending models around spending habits. We compound that problem since we like to overshare on social media. Dates of birth, names and other little pieces of the puzzle give criminals an opportunity to go unnoticed for longer periods of time.

You can do several things to help prevent you from being a victim of identity theft and fraud.

1) Don’t carry important documents with you on a regular basis. Items such as Social Security cards, passports and birth certificates are examples of documents you should keep in a lockbox or safety deposit box until you need them.

2) Shred your mail. It is amazing what personal information comes in the mailbox. Don’t simply throw it out. Shred it!

3) Check your credit reports. These are your financial good-health check. Most people understand the importance of checking your credit report but simply don’t take the time to do it. There are many ways to keep an eye on your credit report and what is in your financial background. These types of services, such as LifeLock, act as watchdogs for your credit. Most will notify you if something is happening that is going to affect your credit score. These could be credit cards in your name, changes of address or other suspicious activities, and most of these services are much cheaper than cleaning up the mess that can be caused by identity theft.  

4) Don’t get sloppy with passwords. Guessing passwords is not as difficult as one might think if someone does some basic research and gets to know you a little bit. Patterns will emerge and bad password habits will form, and then one day at the grocery store someone looks over your shoulder and the game is on.

Identity theft is a growing problem and is expected to get worse. We all know we should do something to protect ourselves, but it just never makes it to the top of the priority list until we try to buy a home or a car or get a credit card.
But we can spend thousands of dollars and potentially years of time trying to clean up our credit and regain our identity. Protecting ourselves is worthy of our time and not that expensive in comparison to the overall cost of cleanup.

Scott Lewis is the president and CEO of Winning Technologies Group of Companies. He has more than 30 years of experience in the technology industry and is a nationally recognized speaker and author on technology subjects. Scott has worked with businesses to empower them to use technology to improve work processes, increase productivity and reduce costs. Winning Technologies’ goal is to work with companies on the selection, implementation, management and support of technology resources. Learn more at www.winningtech.com or 877-379-8279.
Submitted 8 years 18 days ago
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