Identity Theft: How It Happens and How to Prevent It

an infographic showing the impact of identity theft in the united states

Identity theft is a crime that is sometimes hard to track. Especially with the internet and technology, the risk of a thief stealing sensitive personal info is higher than ever. In fact, every 2 seconds, another person is affected by identity theft. Although it’s not completely preventable, there are several good habits that you can put into practice to minimize the risk of being exposed to identity theft in the United States.

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft occurs when an individual steals personal data (such as social security number, date of birth, name, and address) to falsify their identity and use it to financially benefit themselves in some way. There are several strategies that criminals use to get their hands on personal information, for example, by stealing mail, looking for documents in garbage containers, and even using the data in credit/debit cards.

Is There a Difference Between Identity Theft and Identity Fraud?

Many have the impression that identity theft and identity fraud are the same. The truth is, although they have a lot in common, identity fraud takes place when you use the data obtained in identity theft or with false information to open bank accounts, take out loans, seize your existing accounts, or benefit themselves in some way.

How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

There are several simple habits that could save you a headache in the long run. If you put them into practice, you'll be minimizing the chances of you falling as a victim of identity theft. Some of our recommendations include the following:

Check your credit report - We recommend that you check your credit report annually since you have access to that information for free once a year. It’s important that you check all the data on your report to make sure that there are no errors with the transactions under your name. In the event that you notice something very suspicious, you should alert one of the 3 credit bureaus in the United States (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion).

Destroy confidential documents - Although it’s incredibly easy to simply throw your documents (account statements, invoices, credit applications) in the garbage, remember that there are some people who even look for sensitive information in garbage containers. That’s why it’s advisable to use a shredder to cut and destroy important documents. Afterwards, you can recycle or throw the papers in the trash.

Be careful with public WiFi - With the need to always stay connected to the internet, the convenience of using the public WiFi exposes your transaction information on the internet to a wide span of people. Identity thieves can take advantage of a public network to view your online transactions, especially if you make a purchase while connected to public WiFi. That’s why it’s best not to expose your payment information while using the public internet.

Be smart when talking on the phone with people who claim to be from the IRS - Another tactic that criminals can use to commit identity theft is by making calls in which they claim to represent a company or organization, such as the IRS (internal revenue service). Keep in mind that neither the IRS nor any other organization calls people to demand personal information. The most advisable thing is to hang up the phone and avoid being a victim of identity theft.

Identity theft in the United States is a problem that becomes easier for criminals, every time you don’t take the proper precautions when it comes to your safeguarding personal data. For example, when making a purchase on the Internet through public WiFi, when getting rid of personal documents without destroying them, or when providing personal data to strangers over the phone, people become vulnerable to criminals. Making changes in your habits not only protects you but your family as well.

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