Jan 07, 2014 Dave King
In the day-to-day life of the average consumer, identity theft probably isn't even in the top 10 of concerns. However, people would be smart to put more of a focus on this crime, as the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that it occurs more often than people think.
Last year saw one out of every 14 Americans age 16 older became a target or victim of identity theft. This crime resulted in $24.7 billion in financial losses and impacted 16.6 million Americans - most coming from households earning more than $75,000.
In addition to monetary losses, people may also have seen significant damage to consumer credit scores. In fact, many victims spent six months or more trying to resolve financial and credit problems.
"What we're seeing here is the exponential growth of information technology, and with that comes the ability to be hackers," Jim Bueermann, president of the Police Foundation, told The Associated Press.
Bueermann said he believes people will adjust to the new environment and better protect themselves in the digital age. He likened the situation to how homeowners used to not lock their doors at night, but now almost everyone does.
With the potential for significant damage, consumers should turn to financial institutions, such as banks and short term lenders, for simple tips on how to avoid identity theft.
- Shred all important documents: Not everyone gets bank statements in the mail anymore, but those who do need to know how to properly dispose of these documents. According to LearnVest, the best way consumers can ensure they don't become a victim of identity theft is to buy a shredder and use it. Simply throwing statements in the trash isn't enough, as criminals can dig through this junk just to gain access to personal information.
- Use a credit card: Some of the best consumer protections come from credit card providers, so people who frequently shop online would be smart to only use this plastic. Stolen credit card information is much less dangerous than debit card information because that could lead to a person's entire bank account being compromised.
- Monitor accounts: Perhaps the best way consumers can avoid identity theft is to keep a close eye on their accounts. Any unusual activity could signal this crime, so if anything is noticed it should be reported immediately.