Protecting Your Identity

Are You Doing All You Can to Keep Your Identity Safe?

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In 2014, 85% of people took steps to prevent identity theft. Were you one of them? Checking credit reports, shredding documents with personal information and changing passwords on financial accounts were among the actions taken, according to new data recently released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

It seems actions like these are good financial habits to get into. An estimated 17.6 million people, or about 7% of U.S. residents age 16 or older, were victims of at least one incident of identity theft in 2014.

Identity theft is when personal information is used to open a new account or commit other fraud such as receiving government benefits or giving false information to police during a crime or traffic stop. The most common type of identity theft is the unauthorized use of, or attempting to use, account information such as a credit or debit card. Often, victims who have experienced one type of identity theft are likely to experience multiple types of identity theft.

While it’s not time to panic, it is time to be careful. Most attempts at account misuse are quickly and easily resolved, however, once personal information is compromised, it’s important to double down on efforts to watch over your information to ensure it’s not misused again.

"I never had any issues until information of mine was leaked during a data breach in late 2013,” says Jennifer Logan*, a victim of identity theft. “Since then, I’ve had at least three incidents where my bank or credit card company has called to let me know my accounts are being misused again. While I haven’t lost money, it’s a hassle to go without the card for a few days – and then go through the process of updating information wherever I may be using a bank card for online payments."

While most people are fortunate enough to recover quickly, those who spend more time resolving identity theft issues are more likely to experience severe emotional distress and problems with work and personal relationships. Among identity theft victims who spent six months or more resolving financial and credit problems due to the theft, 29% experienced severe emotional distress.

"Now that this has happened more than once, I opted into a service that monitors my data and personal information for me,” says Logan. “Banks and credit cards monitor for possible misuse. This service does that and lets me know if information like my driver’s license, Social Security number or accounts like my retirement or insurance information are at risk. I still monitor my own reports more often. But it’s good to know someone else is in my corner.”

Because individual pieces of seemingly unimportant data (like date of birth or ZIP code) can be gathered over time to steal your identity, it’s important to stay vigilant. While anyone can be at risk, the study also showed the most common victim demographic was white, female and making above $75,000 a year.

  • Whites experienced identity theft at higher rates than blacks, Hispanics and other races.
  • More females (9.2 million) were victims of identity theft than males (8.3 million) in 2014.
  • People in households with an annual income of $75,000 or more had the highest prevalence of identity theft (11%), compared to those in all other income brackets.
  • In addition, the number of identity theft victims age 65 or older increased to 2.6 million in 2014— up from 2.1 million in 2012.
  • 10% of identity theft victims reported that the crime was severely distressing, compared to 33% of violent crime victims.

*Name has been changed to protect the person’s identity.

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