Don't Be Haunted by Identity Theft

By Rick Boeth - Oct. 22, 2018

With any kind of theft, the loss and distress can be deeply unsettling. But when your identity is stolen, the damage can follow you for years.

It Starts with a Few Bits of Information

When thieves learn your name, Social Security number, date of birth or other identifying information, they can target your bank accounts or apply for new credit cards or mortgages in your name.

In a type of identity theft called cloning, a perpetrator actually assumes your identity in another location in an attempt to defraud you. They may use your Social Security number for employment, get medical treatment on your health insurance, or file fraudulent tax returns.

Most Common Types of Identity Theft

Source: 2017 Consumer Sentinel Network Report, The Federal Trade Commission.

Methods: Old-Fashioned Theft, Tech Trickery and Data Breaches

Thieves can acquire your information a variety of ways. We often blame technology, but many thieves do it the old fashioned way. They simply steal it—from your trash, mailbox, wallet or purse.

The bad guys can also trick victims into divulging personal or financial information through phone scams or online through websites, email or social media.

More and more, data breaches expose personal information—like when thieves steal and use customer data at a business, a store, for example. In 2016, more than 30 percent of people who lost control of their personal information via data breaches later became victims of identity theft.

Hacked: When Businesses Get Targeted for Our Personal Information

Number of Data Breaches

Source: Identity Theft Resource Center
 

Two At-Risk Groups

Elderly Adults Are Frequently Targeted

Seniors' regular income and accumulated assets put them at greater risk for financial exploitation.

Read more about elder financial abuse.

2018 Child Identity Fraud Study, Javelin Strategy & Research.

Younger Children Are Especially Vulnerable

More than a million children were victims of identity theft in 2017. Thieves use real and fabricated personal details to create a synthetic identity before a parent even notices the stolen information.

2018 Child Identity Fraud Study, Javelin Strategy & Research.

Not If, but When You'll Be Targeted: How to Protect Yourself

With so many options for identity thieves, the odds of losing control of your personal information are higher than ever. Take steps now to protect yourself.

At home

  • Safeguard important documents: Store Social Security cards, birth certificates, car titles, tax returns, insurance policies, etc. in a secure place such as a locking file cabinet, a home safe, or a safety deposit box at your bank.
  • Go paperless when possible: Mailed utility bills, bank or financial statements, checks, credit card offers, etc., all contain some personal information, often enough that thieves can fill in the missing pieces. Consider signing up for electronic statements when possible. To safeguard the rest of your mail, check USPS.com to see if informed delivery , a digital preview of your mail, is available in your area.
  • Be wary of phone calls: Phone calls are still a leading way criminals steal personal information. If someone calls you and asks you to verify account information or clear up a bill, hang up and call the business directly.
  • Protect your cell phone: Your mobile phone contains lots of personal information, so lock it with a strong passcode, or fingerprint or facial recognition scan in case it's lost or stolen.

Online

  • Know what you're clicking on: Criminals often use so-called phishing emails that “fish” for private information. They send emails with links that replicate legitimate business websites and attempt to get you to add your bank account numbers, Social Security numbers, and credit card information. Always hover over links before clicking to see where they actually take you.
  • Keep it private: Avoid using public computers or public wi-fi (e.g., at hotels, coffee shops) for sensitive account transactions.

Watch for Warning Signs

Personal monitoring catches half of identity theft crimes. If you notice something unusual, don't dismiss it. Always pay close attention to your bank accounts, credit cards and other bills, your physical mail and email. Timing is critical, so if something doesn't add up, take action.

For specific warning signs  or to report identity theft, go to identitytheft.gov , a site the Federal Trade Commission runs. You can create a personal recovery plan to deal with the specific type of identity theft you may be experiencing.

Rick Boeth
Rick Boeth

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      The opinions expressed are those of American Century Investments (or the portfolio manager) and are no guarantee of the future performance of any American Century Investments' portfolio. This material has been prepared for educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide, and should not be relied upon for, investment, accounting, legal or tax advice.