The numbers simply boggle the mind.
More than 10 million Americans each year are victimized by identity theft. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, 47 percent of victims have trouble getting credit or a loan as a result of identity theft. In addition, 70 percent of victims have trouble getting rid of (or never get rid of) negative information in their records.
Then, of course, there are the financial losses. The Aberdeen Group has estimated that $221 billion a year is lost by businesses worldwide due to identity theft and 40 percent of business costs for individual cases of identity theft exceed $15,000.
So much of our personal information is right there for the taking. Credit cards. Cell phones. Countless locations online, from Internet banking to using the social media. You or your family can easily fall victim to identity theft through information posted to Facebook, Twitter and Google.
One form of identity theft that our law firm sees way too often is the stolen credit card. Purchases are then made in stores, restaurants, and gas stations before the victim finds out. Many times, people leave identifiers like personal checks, credit cards and other valuables in their vehicles, believing they are safe.
Wrong. Thieves can break into your car in mere seconds, stealing valuables from the trunk, glove box or under the seats. Those thieves are well-trained and often will break into a female’s car because they see a purse. They break in and then utilize those IDs for writing checks to a person whose ID may have been stolen 3 days earlier and then go to different branches of the bank to cash those checks.
Credit card theft is also common in restaurants. Think about it. You finish your meal and then give your card to the waiter or waitress who leaves your table for about 5 to 10 minutes. In that span your card information can be skimmed with a small portable scanner kept in a pocket or even be stolen in “old school” fashion as simply as using a copy machine to copy both sides of the card.
Here are some ways you can protect yourself. First and foremost, know where your personal identifying information is at all times.
- Don’t leave it in a vehicle overnight or in an open area where it can be easily broken into.
- If you don’t need all four credit cards you have in your possession, don’t bring them with you. Criminals can bust a window in seconds and popping a glove compartment is very easy.
- Putting your items in the trunk of your car is not a very good idea, either. In a very high percentage of vehicles, thieves can access the trunk from inside the car. If you put your valuables in the trunk, a thief that breaks in can easily get them in a matter of seconds.
- Be vigilant about checking your bank and credit card statements every month. Watch for unauthorized purchases on your credit card. Remember, canceling a credit card is also a hassle. It takes time to get new cards issued. If your card is tied to automatic payments or to online services like iTunes or Ebay, now you have to change all of that information before you can resume making purchases. Passwords have to be changed and this just disrupts your life.
- Destroy identifying information in your credit card bill. If you don’t file it in a secure file cabinet, shred it. Don’t just throw it into the trash where a thief can find it.
If you discover that someone is abusing your ID or credit card, contact the bank or card company immediately. Most banking institutions now have their own credit fraud institutions and will typically get involved with law enforcement themselves. If it’s clear that your card was used by someone else in a restaurant or gas station, also contact local law enforcement and fill out a report. The more documentation there is, the better. It heightens your protection and it can be helpful in eventually catching the thief.
The Identity Theft Resource Center also offers these tips to help you protect your identity online.
- Have a plan that includes privacy and identity protection including computer system security software, browser protection, and a fraud alert service.
- Change your passwords regularly.
- Create passwords with upper case letters and numbers.
- Buy software that will hide your IP address. Your IP address discloses your city, state, zip code, and the browser you’re using, which online thieves can use to obtain your identity.
- Encrypt any Wi-Fi service you’re using and never reveal personal information (passwords, bank account numbers, etc.) when on an unsecured Wi-Fi connection.
- Think twice before you post information to social networks – this information never goes away and is public information to anyone who wants to use it. Be careful about the innocuous information you share in social networks as it could reveal your passwords, i.e., the type of cars you like, hobbies, pet names, etc.
For more information, you can visit www.idtheftcenter.org.
In short, be smart with all of your personal information! You wouldn’t just hand your credit card to a stranger and just forget about it. But, in this day and age, we kind of do the same thing by being careless with our ID information and not considering the consequences.
About Attorney Mark Powers
Attorney Mark Powers is a partner at the criminal defense law firm of Huppertz & Powers, S.C. in Waukesha. Previously, Powers served as an Assistant District Attorney with the Waukesha County District Attorney's office as well as a municipal judge in North Prairie. He currently focuses in the area of criminal defense, and has handled many cases involving operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, domestic disputes, and drug offenses.
Powers attended Valparaiso University School of Law, where he received his Juris Doctorate. Prior to law school, Mark attended the University of Wisconsin, Lacrosse where he received his bachelor of science in Political Science.
For more information, please visit www.waukeshacriminalattorneys.com.