It's reported that identity theft occurs every two seconds! In this section we will discuss identity theft.  As technology rapidly improves it seems as if cyber criminals are able to benefit by using advanced techniques to steal consumer information.  Learning how to protect yourself and spot early signs of identity theft can help you avoid becoming a victim.

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft is a serious crime where a criminal steals personal information to impersonate the victim, often for financial gain.

Criminals have many advanced techniques for stealing personal information.  They are interested in information such as your social security number and driver's license number that can be used to open credit cards.

There are two common categories for identity theft.  One is true name fraud, where the criminal uses a victim's personal data to open new accounts (credit, phone, etc.).  The second is account takeover and occurs when the criminal accesses the victims account via hacking or other illegal means.

Identity theft is not reserved for adults only.  Minors under the age of 18 can have their identity stolen before they are even old enough to apply for a credit card.

How to Protect Yourself

With the advances in technology it is very difficult to stay 100% protected against identity theft.  Even when consumers think it is safe to store their data with a company, criminals find a way to hack into databases and steal data.

While there is no surefire way to stay protected, you can take reasonable steps to protect yourself.

1. Be aware.  Take note of your surroundings when making a purchase online or in a store.  Criminals might be trying to look over your shoulder to discover your PIN or password.  Don't give them this easy opportunity.

2. Check your credit report for any issues.  If you see an account open on your file that you did not open or authorize, report the issue right away.

3. Be careful with your sharing!  Social media has provided a wonderful opportunity to stay in touch with family and friends.  It has also provided cyber criminals with a treasure trove of personal data. Think about what can be gathered from your social media profiles: name, age, date of birth, marital status and much more.  Be very careful with what you share online.

4. Don't forget about paper documents. It's easy to think that criminals might only by trying to gather information online, but some still try and harvest data by stealing papers that are thrown out.  If you must recycle old bills or any document containing personal information be sure to put it through a paper shredder first.

Common Scams

There are countless methods a criminal may use to steal your identity. Below are just a few common scams. Some might seem so obvious you might think that nobody would fall for them. But criminals keep using these methods because they work. Remain diligent and don't fall victim to these scams.

Phishing - Technology has made it extremely difficult to tell a scam from the real deal. Criminals will send an email asking you to click a link and claim a prize or confirm personal information. It's difficult to tell if these are legitimate or not as the scammer may use the correct logo and email format to trick you. Always check the email address the email came from. Don't let fear tactics scare you into providing information. When in doubt, delete the email and call the institution directly to confirm if the email was real or not.

Lottery Winner - We all dream of winning the lottery. Big money for no work! Criminals will pretend to be from a lottery and will claim that you are the winner of a prize. All you need to do is confirm some personal information and they will send you the prize money. They may ask you to confirm your name, address and bank account number so they can deposit the funds. Provide this information and the only activity you will likely see in your bank account is funds being sucked out.

Calling - If someone from your bank, credit card company or any other institution calls and starts asking for personal information be wary. A professional institution will never ask for a PIN or private information over the phone. Stop the scammer in their tracks and simply ask for a call back number. If they won't provide one, hang up then notify the real institution of the incident.

IRS Refund - The IRS isn't known for being generous and giving out money. If you receive an email or a call from the IRS claiming they have a refund and need to confirm your banking details, hang up or delete the email. The real IRS, if they do have a refund for you, will only contact you via a letter sent to your residence.

Dating Sites - With the rise of dating sites and apps, criminals are preying on those looking for a relationship. If you found the perfect guy/girl on an app don't share personal information or agree to send them money. The scammer may insist they need funds to visit you or to cover an emergency. Be careful, they may be playing on your emotions to get your money.

The Foreign Prince/Princess - These are not as common as they used to be, but you may still receive an email from a foreign dignitary asking for funds because they are in tough times. Once they regain their position of authority you will be richly rewarded. It goes without saying this is an obvious scam. Please don't give a prince who is down on his luck access to your funds. Riches are not awaiting you at the end of this hustle.

THINK YOU ARE A VICTIM?

1. Change all of your passwords and ensure the new passwords are strong.

2. Notify your bank and credit card company. Request a freeze on your accounts.

3. Put a fraud alert on your credit reports.

4. File an Identity Theft Report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).