SAN FRANCISCO (3/24/08)--The longer you wait to report identity theft, the more it costs you, warn authors of Javelin’s 2008 Identity Fraud Survey Report (MarketWatch.com
March 17). Victims who reported identity theft or fraud within one day spent an average of $428, compared with $1,207 for victims who wait up to five months, according to the report--the nation’s longest-running study of identity theft, now in its fourth consecutive year. Despite a 12% decline in the number of reported thefts from 2006, fraud is still a major concern. And despite the growing incidence of reported data breaches, identity thieves more often obtain your personal information primarily from traditional methods--theft of personal belongings and phony phone calls--rather than from online fraud (govtech.com
Feb. 11). Take precautions now to reduce your risk of becoming a victim:
* Go digital. By paying bills online, you reduce the risk that checks and statements containing personal information may be stolen by identity thieves. And have your paycheck deposited electronically into your account. * Monitor accounts online and frequently. Use credit union and other financial institutions’websites to check for signs of fraud, and report suspicious or unauthorized activity immediately. Consumers with 24/7 access to account activity are most likely to uncover fraud the fastest. * Install and update security software. Make sure you have a firewall, antispyware, antivirus software, and browser security software on your home computer. * Never give personal information to callers. Don’t respond to phone messages that prompt you to call another telephone number about your account. Similarly, don’t send account information via e-mail messages--they’re not secure. Use contact information you already have for the financial institutions with which you do business. * Order your free credit reports. A regular review of your credit file may detect unauthorized accounts or other fraudulent activity. Go to annualcreditreport.com to order one free report per year from Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. * Shred it. Get rid of sensitive papers and statements you no longer need that contain personal information.
Finally, change a few daily habits. Mail bills from a locked mailbox; secure sensitive mobile data stored on a laptop, PDA (personal data assistant) or phone; and don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet unless you need it for a specific purpose on that given day. A stolen wallet that contains a Social Security card--as well as your address and other forms of identification--is like handing over your identity to a thief.