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New report finds unstoppable ID theft: We organized 5 steps to protect yourself

A new and disturbing snapshot of ID theft shows that our identities are under attack. Imposters are unrelenting. They’re targeting many people more than once. And they’re stealing big money, even if you’ve taken steps to protect yourself. 

“It’s both startling and disheartening,” said Eva Velasquez, President and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center in San Diego. ITRC helps people who have had their identities stolen. 

“I don’t think we, as a society, realize just how impactful identity crime victimization is,” Velasquez said.   

In helping victims, ITRC feels the pulse of identity theft today. And it’s concerning. In a new report, it found 59% of victims who turned to ITRC said they secured their accounts with “multi-factor authentication.” And yet, crooks still found a way to steal their identities.  

ITRC says many victims end up feeling anxiety, have difficulty sleeping, and trouble passing a background check for a new job.

“These are significant consequences and they’re not short lived,” Velasquez said. “This doesn’t just go on for a day, for a week, or a month, or a year. This can be lifelong.”

Two other findings in the new report stand out. 26% of victims said crooks stole more than $100,000 impersonating them. And 41% said a crook has stolen their identity more than once. “Given the right circumstances, anyone can be an identity crime victim. No one is immune,” Velasquez said. 

In San Jose, Better Business Bureau CEO Steve McFarland’s team is on the front line.

“We see so many cases here at the BBB,” he said. “We probably get 10 to 15 calls a week on identity theft here.” 

With McFarland’s help, we assembled five ways you can protect your identity. Some you might know, others might be new. 

STEP ONE: Protect Your Paperwork 

McFarland said things like tax documents, financial documents, and medical documents are possible puzzle pieces for a garbage-picking crook. So, when you’re done with sensitive papers, don’t just toss them in the trash.

“Shred them,” he said. “Shred. Them!” 

STEP TWO: Audit Yourself  

McFarland said check your bank statements carefully. Read every line, every month. Here’s why: some scammers try to fly under the radar. They quietly make tiny transactions to test if they’ve connected enough dots to pose as you. You might stop a big fraud — like a bogus loan in your name — if you report a small fraud first.

“It’s easy to spot,” McFarland said. 

STEP THREE: Freeze Your Credit  File (for free)

Identity thieves’ goal is typically to open credit cards or loans. If your credit report is frozen, they’re likely hosed. You can freeze your credit report free, online. Just visit the three big credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion

“It takes minutes,” McFarland said. “And you don’t have to speak to anybody.”  

STEP FOUR: Post fewer details on social media. Sure, lots of people post about their birthdays, anniversaries, trips, kids, pets, cars, and homes. But sharing specifics is daring a pretender to connect more dots. Even ranting about something as plain as your cell carrier discloses a nugget that might help an impostor impersonate you.

“That’s a great way for the scammers to get bits and pieces of information that they already have,” McFarland said. “Now they can put it all together and take your identity…and you’re gonna be in trouble.” 

STEP FIVE: Check Out Insurance

McFarland said you should consider identity theft coverage or insurance. But, before you buy an identity theft policy, do some homework.

“Check with your homeowners policy to see if you already have coverage,” he said. “Or with your bank or credit card agency.” 

Some credit cards throw in identity theft protection as a perk — part of your annual fee. Renter’s insurance might include identity theft coverage, too. If you’re not sure, just ask your agent.

Source: NBC Bay Area

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