How often have you hear or read in the news about a data breach (Target, the Veterans Administration, etc)? Probably so frequently that it seems like The Boy Who Cried Wolf. There have been at least 16 breeches made public in the last 30 days! As of the time I’m writing this, over 867 MILLION records have been breached since 2005!!
I’m sure that by now with all the data breaches alone, not to mention the other opportunities identity thieves have that my identity has already been stolen, it’s just a matter of time for someone to start using the data to steal from me. I’m sure you know someone who’s had their ID stolen, in fact I was inspired and encouraged to write this blog post by my wife, who had her debit card data skimmed and used to make a fraudulent purchase.
Ok, so you’ve heard of ID theft, but what is it, exactly? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary ID theft is, “the illegal use of someone else’s personal information (such as a Social Security number) especially in order to obtain money or credit.”
Other than data breaches, you ID can be stolen by:
* Skimming: where someone copies the data off of the magnetic strip of your debit/credit card
* Phishing: scammers pretend to be a legitimate financial institution or company and ask for your info
* Stealing: thieves can raid your mailbox, steal your wallet or purse, or bribe people who have access to your info
* Change of address: a thief can submit a change of address form and direct your statements to another location
Some of the things they will do with your ID are:
- Open new accounts, loans, credit cards
- Set up utilities in your name
- Empty your bank account
- Obtain a government ID and/or government benefits
- Give your info when they are arrested
This all sounds pretty bad, but there is a bright(ish) side: You are not responsible for any acts committed by those who steel/use your ID without your permission. However, you are left with a mess to clean up. It can take hundreds of hours of your time to deal with everyone necessary to clean up your ID.
So, what can you do? Unfortunately, you can’t prevent ID theft, but you can take steps to reduce the chance of having your ID stolen or minimize the damage, such as:
- Checking medical insurance benefit statements and bills for inaccuracies/fraud
- Only give out personal info to people/organizations you know or have contacted first
- Don’t put your social security number on any ID cards in your wallet/purse or on your checks
- Check your bank statements and annual earnings statement from Social Security for accuracy
- Check your credit report at least annually, from each of the credit bureaus; you can do this for free
- Choose complex passwords for all your online accounts
But when all that doesn’t stop a thief, what can a person do? You should purchase an ID Theft Protection plan. It’s what I have done. For a few dollars a month I know that when my ID is stolen and used, all I have to do is contact my protection provider and they will do ALL the work to restore everything back to the way it was. I don’t have to spend my precious free time on the phone or sending certified letters to everyone. I personally use Zander Insurance’s ID Theft Protection Plan. I am not sponsored by them (or anyone) and would not recommend something I don’t personally use, but do your own research and see if this is the best product for you and your family. I know I have not found a better plan out there!
So, how did it turn out with my wife’s stolen debit card info? We noticed an unfamiliar transaction on my bank statement the day it occurred. I called my bank’s fraud division and they credited the account, canceled my wife’s old card and issued her a new one. One thing of note, she had only used it a few times and still had it skimmed, while I use mine all the time and have not had it happen. So keep that in mind when you think you may need ID Theft Protection.