The Department of Justice recently released a report on identity theft victims for 2012 entitled Victims of Identity Theft. In just one year, 7% of the population — that’s more than 16 million U.S. residents age 16 or older — were victims of identity theft. Losses from identity theft came to an astounding $24.7 billion.
This report referenced data from the 2012 Identity Theft Supplement (ITS) to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). Identity theft was defined as unauthorized access or attempted access of a credit or debit card, checking or saving account, or telephone, online, or insurance account.
Highlights of the Report
Below are some of the highlights of the DOJ Identity Theft Report:
- The majority of identity theft incidents (85%) had to do with unauthorized access of a credit card or bank account.
- Two thirds of identity theft victims experienced direct financial losses due to the theft and 14% experienced an out-of-pocket financial loss.
- More than 50% of identity theft victims were able to resolve it in a day or less, but nearly 30% of victims spent a month or more resolving associated problems.
- More than a third of identity theft victims experienced moderate or severe emotional distress because of the theft.
- Higher income households were more likely to be victims of identity theft than lower incomes households.
- The most common way that identity theft victims discovered the theft was when they were notified by a bank or financial institution.
- The majority of identity theft victims did not know how the identity thief obtained their information, and 9 in 10 did not know their attacker.
- Fewer than 1 in 10 identity theft victims reported it to the police.
- Around 85% of identity theft victims took some sort of action to prevent future attacks from happening.
How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
It’s always a good idea to review ways in which you can keep yourself safe from identity thieves. Below are some ways that you can protect yourself:
- Use strong passwords on all your online accounts, and change them often. Unique passwords that use a mixture of alphanumeric and special characters (such as $, %, and #) are the strongest.
- Use robust firewall and antivirus software and keep them updated.
- Don’t click on suspicious emails, attachments, links, or websites. Identity thieves can use your personal information to hijack your identity and steal money from you.
- Keep your mobile devices secure. Use a strong password to lock your phone or tablet computer. Additionally, disable the geotagging feature on your cell phone so people do not know where you are.
- Use a VPN when accessing public WiFi. If you ever use public WiFi, anyone around you with simple software and a computer can see everything that you do online. A VPN like PRIVATE WiFi encrypts all of your information and makes it impossible for anyone to steal your data while you are accessing a public WiFi network.
Free Identity Theft Protection
In addition to the ways that you can protect yourself, there are many identity theft services out there, such as Trusted ID, ProtectMyID, Lifelock, and ID Watchdog, which will watch your credit reports for any activity for about $100 a year.
If you are looking to not spend any money, below are some things you can do to protect yourself from identity thieves.
- Fraud alerts: You can place a free fraud alert on your credit reports, which alerts potential creditors to take extra precautions. Creditors will call you before issuing any credit. These alerts last for 90 days. For more information, see http://www.annualcreditreport.com and http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/freereports/index.shtml.
- Free credit monitoring: Certain banks, credit unions and other organizations offer free monitoring services. Talk to your bank or credit union for more information.
- Credit freeze: Credit freezes allow you to restrict access to your credit report, which stops potential creditors from getting access to your credit report. This makes it more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name, since creditors almost always want to view your credit report first.