Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman may have poked fun at the crime in their aptly named comedy “Identity Thief,” but ID fraud is no laughing matter. In fact, 12.6 million people had their identity stolen in 2012. That’s more than the population of Minnesota and Wisconsin combined!
Back in the day, most identity theft occurred by stealing a person’s mail or catching their credit card information while at an ATM. Nowadays, as more of our information moves online in the form of smartphones and laptops, thieves are learning more sophisticated ways to steal your information electronically. Some common methods used today include:
- Hacking into computer software to track or record sensitive information.
- Using a device known as a “skimmer,” which is placed inside a legitimate credit card reader to relay card information to a third party. ABC News recently did a story on how the skimming technique was used at a gas station in California.
- Filing a change of address to have mail and other financial data sent to a different location.
- Digging through garbage bins to find personal information or pre-approved credit card offers.
The problem for most people is that they don’t know their identity has been stolen until it’s too late. Once the thieves have control of your credit, they can rack up a lot of charges in a short amount of time. According to one source, the average scammer steals about $5,000 from every identity they steal, and out-of-pocket costs to resolve the damage costs the victim about $1,100.
Tips to Prevent Identity Theft
To protect its residents, Minnesota has enacted the Minnesota Identity Theft freeze law, which allows consumers to put a hold on their account for a set period of time. When an account is frozen, thieves cannot obtain new credit cards or loans under a person’s name.
If you believe you’ve been a victim of identity theft, you can request to have your personal credit frozen free of charge. Those individuals who simply want to freeze their report, but haven’t experienced identity theft, can do so for a $5 fee. Once the credit company receives your request, they must freeze your account with 72 hours and provide you with a PIN to “thaw” the account within 10 days.
Finally, the easiest way to protect yourself from identity theft is by taking some simple steps to secure your information. Some ways to keep your information secure include:
- Shred credit card offers or personal information and dispose of the remains in a secure trash bin.
- Make sure nobody is hovering over your shoulder when withdrawing money from an ATM.
- Make intricate passwords that only you or your family will remember, and if you plan on writing the passwords down, store the information in a safe place in your home. Do not leave your passwords on a file on your laptop. If your computer gets stolen, so will all your sensitive information.
- Be careful about what information you give out, both online and in the real world. If something seems to be too good to be true, it probably is.
- And lastly, despite what that email in your inbox says, you do not have a long lost relative who is the Prince of Nigeria. If he’s really royalty, he can get his money into the United States without your assistance.
Related sources: ABC, Mashable, NCPC, Ag.state.mn.us