4 Shocking Facts About Identity Theft: Are You at Risk?

Source: iStock
Source: iStock

Identity theft is getting old, isn’t it? It seems like nearly ever week there’s a new story about some company that has compromised it’s customer’s private information, either through a hijacked pin pad at a cash register, or through important files and personal information being released or stolen. Unfortunately, identity theft remains a large problem, but the problem isn’t just with big companies making mistakes. What many people don’t realize is that identity theft can actually come from surprising sources, and affect people in your family who you may not even be worried about protecting. Identity attacks don’t just come from companies, and they don’t only affect strangers or even adults. They can come from people who may never expect, and they often target children. Here are four surprising facts that might make you think differently about identity theft.

1. Your family members might be the ones to watch

Your family members are the ones you love, trust, and depend on, right? Most of us would never expect a loved one to steal anything from us, let alone our private information. The truth is, your family members may target you to use your private information. According to Identity Guard, familial identity theft can happen because we often don’t expect family members, because they can easily access our information, and because prosecuting a family member or close friend can be emotionally difficult, so many victims don’t try.

2. Using social media can compromise your identity

In the same way that we often trust our family and friends around our private information, many people also share way too much information on social media. According to the BBB, if your Facebook account states your name, birthday, and hometown, you are already giving out crucial private information. You can protect yourself by keeping your birthday and other identifying details private, but you should also make your profile private as well. Just remember that even if you do this, your identity can still be stolen by a friend or family member. Your best bet is to leave private information off of social media.

Also, avoid sharing seemingly innocent private information on Twitter or Facebook like your doctor, hospital, etc. Approximately 250,000 people are affected by medical identity theft each year in the United States, but of course, thieves can get your medical information in many different ways.

3. Your children might be at risk

Parents often don’t realize their children might be at risk of identity theft. Since in theory a 5-year-old can’t open a credit card, it would make sense if kids’ identities were safe. However, this isn’t true. According to the Federal Trade Commission, if a thief obtains your child’s social security number, they can apply for government benefits, open bank accounts, credit cards, or even apply for a loan or place to live. It’s a smart idea to regularly check your own, and your child’s, credit report. You can do that here.

Because child identity theft can go undetected for so long (imagine if you a thief stole your child’s identity at age 3, and then your child didn’t apply for a credit card until 18) it can be particularly damaging. Be sure to be careful who you give your child’s information to, and try to keep all of their private information in a safe place.

4. Surprising Statistics

The Bureau of Justice Statistics recently shared findings from the 2014 Identity Theft Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey. Some highlights include the fact that about 7% of people age 16 or older were victims of identity theft in 2014; also 86% of victims experienced fraudulent use of accounts they they already held (credit cards and bank account information). In 2012, 2.1 million elderly victims experienced identity theft, and that number rose to 2.6 million in 2014. These statistics show that identity theft affects a large percentage of the population; it isn’t a problem for other people; it’s a problem for much of America. These statistics also show that there is a large threat to existing accounts, and that the elderly are falling victim to identity theft more often. All of these statistics underscore the significance of the identity theft problem.

Most shocking, your children are actually far more likely to become victims of identity theft. A study by Carnegie Mellon University found that 10.2% of the children they scanned had someone else using their social security number, which was about 51 times higher than the rate for adults.

No one can be one hundred percent safe from identity theft, but you can take steps to protect yourself. Be careful about where and how you store your information, and who you give it out to. Also, make sure to regularly check your credit report (and your kids’ if you have them), and if you are truly concerned, consider purchasing identity theft protection.

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