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Identity Theft Awareness & Prevention Month: A Primer

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December Happenings

Image of a hand coming out of a computer monitor and reaching for credit cards and a Social Security Card laying in front of the screen.

When it comes to holiday celebrations and identity theft, one takes planning and the other can happen without your help.

Each year, the increase in physical and digital purchases in December causes a corresponding increase in identity theft. Identity Theft Awareness and Prevention Month is intended to help consumers be more alert and proactive about protecting their personal information.

Did You Know?

  • Between 2008 and 2020, there were over 11 billion records stolen in US data breaches. How is that possible? Because thieves are constantly learning new ways to bypass protections, not to mention that much of our data is not even protected at all. When your personal information is stolen, a thief will use it to steal your identity and use it for their personal benefit and gain.
  • In 2020, account takeovers, when a criminal gains access to a personal account, increased 20%. 40% of those account takeovers are accomplished within 24 hours of initial access to a victim’s account.
  • The pandemic saw a noticeable increase in scams, including unsolicited calls, robocalls, and phishing attempts. Due to an increase in home shopping, digital payment methods accounted for the 18 million scam victims in 2020.
  • Stolen credit card data is often sold on the dark web for as little as 50 cents per card, while creating a cascade of financial harm to the theft victims.

Types of Identity Theft

Here are some of the ways criminals benefit by stealing your information:

  • Credit Identity: A criminal uses your information to apply for a new credit line. You can detect credit fraud by keeping your eye on your own credit reports. If you see unexpected changes in your score or errors in your credit activity, report it. Debt collection notices or a court judgement against you can also be a sign that your credit is being tampered with.
  • Child Identity: Criminals steal a child’s identity to apply for credit in the child’s name. If you receive credit card offers or phone calls regarding credit card payments or debt collection notices in your child’s name, this is a clear sign of identity theft.
  • Synthetic Identity: A criminal will use a collection of identity details in order to create a fake consumer. They can use a Social Security Number (SSN) to apply for credit cards or loans. A crook may even make regular payments to the credit card to help build the credit limit and then borrow the maximum limit on the card and disappear. You should see this activity on your credit report if your SSN number is already in use.
  • Taxpayer Identity: Possession of an SSN will allow a thief to file a tax return in your name so that they can steal your refund or credit. If you face difficulty trying to e-file your tax return or you are notified about tax activity you are not responsible for, this is an indication of identity theft.
  • Medical Identity: Your identity is used to obtain health care or prescription drugs, which are often sold on the black market. Watch for health insurance claims you don’t recognize.
  • Account Takeover: If a criminal is able to access your financial accounts with account numbers and passwords, they can easily change your password and lock you out and gain full access for themselves. If you have been locked out of an account without warning or you receive notices of unusual account activity, contact your financial institution.
  • Criminal Identity: Criminals often use a stolen identity during an arrest or investigation, and if they use yours, you may have an active warrant issued in your name, creating a nasty surprise for you in case of a routine traffic stop, or when applying for a job or undergoing a background check.

Protecting Your Identity

Here are some key tips for protecting your identity as you go about your daily activities:

  • Shred. Never throw away or recycle any papers, including sticky notes, that contain any personally identifiable information (PII). If you aren’t sure, shred it anyway. Even shred your address label from magazines and circulars. Remember: thieves are adept at assembling a few small pieces of PII to steal your identity, and home shredding machines are notorious for leaving your information vulnerable. Work with a local, reputable shredding company instead.
  • Protect. Never give private information over the phone, on the internet, via email, text, instant message, on social media, or by or postal mail without being 100 percent sure of who you are sharing it with and why. Also consider how secure the communication method is. For instance, only use websites with URLs that begin with https, never email credit card information, and always protect your Social Security Number.
  • Passwords. Never use discoverable information for passwords, like your maiden name, children’s or pets names, or birthdates. Use a password generator or a phrase that you can easily remember that uses a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters. Make it unique and therefore extremely difficult for a thief to guess or hack. Use multi-factor authentication whenever it is available.
  • Information. Limit the information you carry with you. The fewer credit cards and personal identifiers you have on you will lower the risk should it be seen, stolen or lost. Protect your mobile phone with a strong PIN or biometric security.
  • Credit Report. You are entitled to a free annual credit report. Take advantage of it to look for any unusual activity.

Identity theft can happen to anyone. The statistics we have shared here are proof that Identity Theft Awareness and Prevention is vital.

Wiggins Shredding provides a full range of shredding and destruction services to businesses and residents of Pennsylvania and the Tri-State area of Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey. Our shredding experts and state-of-the-art equipment are here to help you stay ahead of identity thieves. Whether you have a large residential shredding project or just need to bring your items to one of our convenient drop-off shredding locations, we can help you. Have questions? Simply call us at 610-692-TEAR(8327) or complete the form on this page. We look forward to talking with you!

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