According to Javelin Strategy & Research, the number of people victimized by identity theft in 2010 is down 28% from the 2009 numbers. That means “only” 8.1 million people became victims last year.
But the reason for the drop really has nothing to do with how you should continue to protect your own identity.
In fact, the big difference is that banks and other institutions are taking stronger measures to protect customer data. So the “mass market” identity thieves were less successful in 2010. There are still too many data breaches, however. 2010 saw 407 incidents, with 26 million records exposed. That’s down from 604 breaches with 221 million records exposed in 2009.
That means you must not relax. The “garden variety” identity thief who may be stalking your individual identity is still out there working – and as long as the economy stays down, his numbers may increase.
After all, with a new identity, thieves can buy cars, open new credit card accounts, rent homes or apartments, get cell phones, and even get jobs they could not qualify for under their own identity.
If you’re dead broke and possess a criminal mentality, why not use someone else’s identity to get the things you want?
Friends aren’t always friendly…
Javelin, who has been tracking trends in identity theft since 2003, reported another disturbing fact. “Friendly fraud” grew by 7% in 2010.
Friendly fraud is the term used to describe identity theft committed by a friend or an acquaintance. Consumers in the 25 to 34 year old age group are the most frequent victims of this kind of fraud. Perhaps this age group is a little too trusting?
Another bit of unhappy news is that the cost of identity theft has increased. The out of pocket expense to victims increased from $387 per incident to $631 in 2010.
While consumers are generally not held liable for fraudulent debt, legal fees can add up quickly, and some consumers decide to just pay the bills rather than go through the hassle of dealing with the situation.
Add time lost from work and mental stress, and a stolen identity can become very expensive.
Keep on protecting your personal data. Never, ever, toss something in the trash that contains any of your personal information. A shredder costs very little, so get one and use it.
Along with bank statements and tax returns, the papers you should protect include all paid bills, old checkbooks, insurance forms, job applications, W-2 forms, paycheck stubs, and the credit card offers you receive in the mail.
Never reveal your true information on social networking sites. One bit of information thieves find handy to have is your date and place of birth – and thousands of people put that information out there for anyone to find. They also reveal other useful tidbits – like home addresses and the hours they’re away from home at work.
Just don’t do it! Your real friends already know – and the rest of the world doesn’t need to know.
Don’t let credit cards out of your site when paying for meals. Take your bill to the counter yourself and watch while your charge is processed.
Don’t write your credit card numbers on a mail order form and then drop it in your unlocked mailbox on your way out to work in the morning.
Don’t leave credit cards laying around your house or on your desk in plain view. Don’t leave your wallet or purse in an unlocked area when you’re at work – or in plain view in a locked car.
Keep a close eye on bank accounts and credit cards. You can check status any time you want on line. Do it every week or two.
Read your mail. If your bank or other institution suffers a data breach, they’ll let you know. But don’t assume that they’re protecting you because they told you it happened. It’s up to you to keep a close eye on your credit report and all your accounts, so that you can stop identity theft as soon as it happens.
If you’re offered free credit monitoring as a result of the breach, take it, and use it diligently. And do keep that letter. If you become a victim, you may need it to use as proof that you aren’t the one who spent $1,500 at the shopping channel – or somewhere worse.
Identity theft is still a very real threat. So if you haven’t checked your credit report lately, you really should. You may be shocked to learn that you’re living in a new city, working for a new employer, and have many thousands of dollars in new debt.
If you’re lucky, you’ll find that all is well. To keep it that way, sign up for credit monitoring, and pay attention when you get a notice of activity on your account.