An 87-year-old widow was scammed for $70,000, including the purchase of a vehicle and application for a student loan.
A police lieutenant had his personal information stolen and used in three separate instances of identity theft. The theft originated from data related to his childhood insurance coverage.
A bank vice president found out his identity had been used to open four credit cards, purchase a sports car, and rent an apartment. The thief had a driver’s license featuring his own picture and the stolen information.
These true stories are just a few examples of identity theft that could happen to anyone, regardless of your age, occupation, financial status, or where you live. In each case, the victims learned about the crime after their information was stolen and had already been used multiple times.
Identity theft occurs when someone steals another person’s sensitive personal information and either uses it as their own or sells it on the black market for other perpetrators to use for financial gain or fraud. Identity theft has been making headlines for years; however, each and every year, thieves become more sophisticated. Staying in step with these criminal advances is a constant struggle for small business owners, corporations, and individual consumers alike. In spite of the work that is being done to keep our information safe, cases of identity theft continue to be reported at an alarming rate.
According to the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Report published in 2023 and covering the full year of 2022, reported cases of identity theft have increased by over 584% in the last 20 years. Other interesting data that came from this report:
- Last year, 1,108,609 cases of identity theft were reported, and, perhaps surprisingly, people in their thirties were the highest percentage of victims (25.9%).
- The median loss to fraud victims is $500, with total reported losses of $10.2 billion, a significant increase from the previous year’s total of $6.9 billion in reported losses.
- The most common type of identity theft was credit card fraud, which includes using stolen information to open a line of credit as well as using a legitimate card fraudulently.
- Experts estimate that there is a case of identity theft every 22 seconds and that 33% of Americans will face this issue in their lifetime.
While safeguarding your personal information is key, so is knowing what to do if you find out that you have already become a victim of identity theft. First, you should know what red flags to watch out for, as time is of the essence when dealing with identity theft. The longer you wait to begin the recovery process, the more losses you risk facing. Early warning signs of identity theft can include:
- Finding unknown charges on your credit card or bank statement
- Receiving calls from collection agencies about debts you aren’t aware of
- Seeing unfamiliar withdrawals from your financial accounts
- Receiving bills for items you didn’t purchase or services you didn’t request
- Finding out that a tax return has already been filed in your name, prior to filing your own
- Being unexpectedly denied on a loan application
- Receiving notification of a line of credit that you did not open
- Getting notifications or other information about government benefits or loans that you did not apply for
If any of the above signs apply to you, they should be addressed immediately. We have dedicated Identity Theft Recovery Advocates who are available to you as a HomeFREE Checking™ account holder. They can help you assess what information has been compromised and assist in quickly taking steps to stop the damage and recover your identity, regardless of the type of identity theft or how it happened.
Once you have addressed the immediate issues surrounding the theft of your personal information, there are a few things you can do to help protect your identity in the future.
- Regularly check your bills and financial statements. It’s common practice for scammers to make small purchases or withdrawals first to see if they can get away with it before attempting larger purchases or loans. Notify your financial institution immediately if you see a charge that you don’t recognize.
- Use unique passwords for each of your online accounts. If a hacker obtains your password for one account, they will likely pair it with your name or email address on other sites to see what else they can gain access to. Consider using a trusted password service to help manage unique passwords for you. Changing your passwords regularly is another effective deterrent against scammers.
- Collect your mail daily and pay attention to any recurring items, like bank and credit card statements, to make sure you don’t miss any. Some thieves take envelopes containing sensitive information out of mailboxes. If you are away from your home for an extended period of time, notify the postal service to hold your mail while you are gone. It is also a good idea to enroll in USPS Informed Delivery, a free service from the postal service that shows you preview images of incoming mail, plus status updates about your incoming and outbound packages.
- Monitor your Social Security account. Set up a free account with the Social Security Administration to help ensure your Social Security number isn’t fraudulently claimed by someone else.
Identity theft can happen to anyone, and its effects can range from a small annoyance to financial devastation. The best protection is prevention, but if your information is used without your knowledge, we are standing by to help. If you are a HomeFREE Checking™ account holder and you think that you might be a victim of identity theft, contact us and we will put you in touch with a professional Identity Theft Recovery Advocate.