Hello? Will the REAL You Step Forward?

Send an email, text or sign a receipt and chances are there is a thief just waiting out there to snag your information. Something as benign as entering a PIN number, password or clicking a link unwittingly turns a simple transaction into a whole new identity – for someone else. BBB® has issued numerous cautions in the past regarding the repercussions about identity theft, credit card fraud, fake websites and other shenanigans caused by these unruly individuals but it’s a message that bears repeating.

Identity theft costs A LOT of money. A recent Javelin Strategy and Research report shows the number of identity fraud victims in the U.S. increased for the second year in a row, rising by 1 million to a total of 12.6 million in 2012. More than 1 in 20 (5.26 percent) American consumers had their identity stolen or otherwise compromised. That adds up to $20.9 billion lost to identity fraud meaning new accounts were opened using another person’s identity or an account was taken over by information stolen from the victim.

Part of the $21 million includes out-of-pocket expenses, unreimbursed monetary losses and lost wages as a result of spending time resolving the fraud. The Federal Trade Commission estimates there are more than 9 million victims of Identity Theft in the US every year. That’s about 9 out of every 300 people. Ironically, the theft is never really reported because banks will reimburse the loss and sometimes, the theft is not reported to police. Prevent becoming a victim, get vigilant about your identity with the following tips:

Protect your Social Security number. Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write your Social Security number on a check.

Treat your trash and mail carefully. Shred and minimize junk mail to thwart an identity thief who may pick through your trash or recycling bins to capture your personal information. Shred receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, bank statements, expired charge cards and credit offers you get in the mail.

Be on guard when using the Internet. Always look for the padlock in the URL and for the ‘s’ in HTTP to ensure you are on a secure website. Make sure you are actually dealing with a company that you know and trust and it is the real website.

Select intricate passwords. For all online accounts, create a unique password. Avoid using easily available information like your mother’s maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your Social Security number or your phone number.

Verify a source before sharing information. Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or on the Internet unless you’ve initiated the contact and are sure you know who you’re dealing with.

Bottom line? The best way to detect identity theft is to be vigilant, monitor your accounts and bank statements each month, and check your credit report on a regular basis. You can always trust doing business with a company by doing a little research first at bbb.org.

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About Sandra Guile

Sandra is the PR Specialist for BBB Cincinnati, promoting BBB's message of marketplace ethics through public speaking engagements, presentations, blogging, media relations, press releases, web content and other written materials. Her goal is to connect with consumers and business owners in a trustworthy environment and encouraging best practices.