Identity theft is a huge problem in the US, and it appears to be only getting worse. According to a study released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 16.6 million people had their identities stolen in 2012, which accounts for 7% of all people over the age of 16. Considering that the number of cases was 8.1 million victims in 2007, the trend is rising with more and more people being victimized. In just the last several years, it’s estimated that 14% of Americans has been victimized by identity theft.
The cost of identity theft in 2012 amounted to $24.7 billion, which is $10 billion more than what’s reported for other property crimes combined, including burglary, property theft and even car theft. The average cost of identity theft per person is $9,650, a huge sum of money. Most people, though, pay out of pockets costs of less than $100. The cost to businesses can be large, however, and the cost to an individual’s credit rating and the time spent sorting things out are incalculable.
One of the more common types of identity theft these days is the stealing of credit and debit cards or the misuse of other accounts. According to the BJS report, 15.3 million of those victimized by identity theft in 2012 were those who had their accounts stolen. Between 2005-2010, credit card number theft increased by 50%.
It’s become commonplace for online criminals to be able to purchase personal financial information, with credit card information being sold on the black market for anywhere from $10 to hundreds of dollars for the credit cards with no limit and good credit. As a USA Today article points out, the losses to businesses can be huge, with costs ranging from between $150-$250 for each stolen credit card used with their business. Pin and Chip technology could solve much of these problems, if credit card companies adopted this solution.
There are many things you can do to protect yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft. For one, make sure you’re always using a secured wi-fi connection, especially when making financial transactions over the Internet. According to Microsoft, only 1/3 of people surveyed in their 2013 Global Microsoft Computing Safety Index use a secured wi-fi connection.
You should also make sure that your computer is up to date with anti-virus and malware software—which can deter an increasingly sizable way that hackers are able to steal your information.
Using stronger passwords is also important—the more random, the better. And while it can be hard to remember random passwords for the dozens of sites we use everyday, you could look into a service like LastPass, which does the hard work of remembering your passwords for you. Keeping track of your credit and signing up for services that help you with doing so isn’t a bad idea either. There are also subscription based services that alert consumers to identify theft and clean up reputations after the fact.
Overall, you should be weary of where you use your personal information and take steps to make sure it’s always encrypted, and always try and use URLs beginning with https wherever you can when giving credit card information online.
Doing so will make you a smarter and safer consumer.
Zack Christenson writes on digital tech issues for the American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research