Everyone has heard of identity theft. After all, it has been a prevalent topic for the last 20 years. But in those years did you ever stop to learn what it is and how it can impact you? Or, maybe you have become complacent and even fatigued by the topic to the point of no longer paying attention. Today, more than ever, we need to reawaken the need for families to understand and keep learning about scams that can dramatically impact financial wellness and lead to identity theft.
Let’s consider that you may be in a very different situation than you were when you first heard about identity theft. Today, you may have accumulated more wealth, or your young children may now be entering their teen years or young adulthood. You may utilize more digital transaction methods and communications. You may now be retired and living on a fixed income. With all of these life changes, it is more important than ever to know the Red Flags of Identity Theft. Let’s begin with the basics and review what identity theft is and how it is perpetrated.
Identity theft is a type of crime where someone obtains another person’s personal information without their permission or knowledge and uses that information to commit fraud or other illegal activities. The personal information that is commonly targeted includes names, addresses, birthdates, Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, and bank account information.
Identity theft can have a wide range of negative consequences for the victim, including financial loss, damage to credit scores, legal problems, and emotional distress. Identity thieves can use the stolen information to open new accounts, make unauthorized purchases, obtain loans, file fraudulent tax returns, and commit other forms of fraud. In some cases, the victim may not even be aware that their identity has been stolen until they are contacted by a creditor or law enforcement agency.
Identity theft is a growing problem globally, and statistics show that it is becoming more prevalent every year. Here are some statistics about identity theft:
- In 2022, there were over 1.1 million reports of identity theft in the United States alone. (Federal Trade Commission)
- Identity theft cost Americans over $43 billion in 2022. (Javelin Strategy & Research)
- The most common type of identity theft is credit card fraud, accounting for 40% of all reported cases. (Federal Trade Commission)
- In 2022, nearly 6% of all reported identity theft cases involved government documents or benefits fraud, such as using stolen information to file for unemployment benefits. (Federal Trade Commission)
- Children are also at risk of identity theft, with over 1 million children having their identities stolen each year. (Javelin Strategy & Research)
- In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic led to a significant increase in identity theft, with fraudsters using stolen information to apply for government assistance programs and unemployment benefits. (Federal Trade Commission)
- It takes an average of 6 months and 100-200 hours of work to resolve an identity theft case. (Federal Trade Commission)
- Around 60% of identity theft victims experience emotional distress as a result of the crime. (Identity Theft Resource Center)
Here are some common ways in which people can become victims of identity theft:
Phishing is a technique that involves sending fraudulent emails, texts, or other messages that appear to be from a reputable source, such as a bank or credit card company. The messages usually contain a link that directs the recipient to a fake website, where they are asked to enter their personal information. This information is then collected by the fraudster and used for identity theft
Data breaches occur when hackers gain unauthorized access to a company’s computer system and steal sensitive data, such as Social Security numbers and credit card information. This stolen data can then be sold on the dark web, where it can be used for identity theft.
Skimming is a technique that involves stealing credit or debit card information by using a small device called a skimmer that is placed on a card reader, such as an ATM or gas pump. The skimmer reads the card’s magnetic strip and harvests and stores the information, which can then be used for identity theft.
Social engineering involves tricking people into revealing their personal information by posing as a trusted individual or organization, such as a bank or government agency. This can be done through phone calls, emails, or even in person.
Physical theft involves stealing personal information, such as wallets, mail, or documents, from a person’s home or car. This information can then be used for identity theft.
Using unsecured Wi-Fi networks can make it easy for hackers to intercept sensitive information, such as login credentials and financial information.
Avoiding identity theft involves taking steps to help protect your personal information, such as using strong passwords, being cautious about giving out personal information online, regularly checking your credit reports and financial statements, and being alert to signs of identity theft. In the months ahead, we will be taking an in-depth look at each of the topics above to learn more about the different types of fraud that lead to identity theft and help you recognize the Red Flags that can be an early warning and what to do to help protect yourself and your family.
If you suspect that your identity has been stolen, it’s important to take action immediately. As a HomeFREE Checking accountholder, should you feel your identity has been compromised, contact us – we have professional Identity Theft Recovery Advocates standing by, ready to assist. These Advocates are prepared to work on your behalf to help you recover from identity thefy any and to help you reverse damage it may have caused.