Published June 27, 2014
We all know not to carry around our Social Security card or use public Wi-Fi to do personal banking, but there are other not-as-obvious ways we are compromising our personal information.
“It’s one of those ‘not-me’ thoughts,” says Julie Springer, vice president at credit and information management service firm TransUnion. “There is a real disconnect with people being concerned about identity theft and their actions to prevent or repair it.”
Identity theft isn’t a new threat-but it’s a growing one. In 2013, more than 13 million Americans were identity theft victims, an increase of about half a million people from 2012, according to a report from Javelin Strategy & Research.
According to a new TransUnion survey, 80% of adults are concerned about becoming a victim of identity theft, but most are not taking the right steps to protect themselves.
Despite millions of shoppers’ information being compromised by data breaches at retailers’ brick-and-mortar stores within the last year, consumers haven’t changed their behaviors. The survey found when comparing their perceived levels of risk, only 34% of respondents believe using their debit or credit card at a retail store puts them at risk while 60% worry online shopping puts them at risk.
“Some things are so obvious of what not to do,” says Adam Levin, co-founder of IDT 911. “But we are under attack every day in ways we don’t even know.”
As identity thieves continue to adapt and work to stay one step ahead of us, experts pinpoint unexpected ways we might be compromising our personal information:
You Hand Over the Car Keys. Most of us store a lot of personal information (like registration and old receipts) in our cars, and handing over the keys to the valet or auto mechanic can be costly.
“There is a lot of information in your glove compartment or trunk,” warns Levin. “Give them a valet key that only allows them to start the car. If you just hand over the regular keys, you are unknowingly aiding and abetting someone to steal your identity.”
You Throw Away ‘Junk’ Mail. It’s tempting to just throw out unwanted credit card offers or paid billing statements, but most of these documents have enough information to allow someone to open an account in your name, says Springer.
“You need to shred documents that have any personal information. If they can change the address to where the bill will be sent, it might take a long time for you to figure out what’s happened,” she says.
You Talk to Strangers. If someone calls looking to confirm personal information, that’s a major red flag, Levin warns.
“If someone is claiming to be from your bank and asks for personal information to confirm your account, don’t do it. Think about it: They are asking you to authenticate yourself, but they just called you—they should know who you are then.” He suggests hanging up and calling the number on the back of a credit or bank card to verify the request.
He also warns of a new scam that’s spreading that involves fraudsters claiming to be from the jury commissioner’s office and they need to verify jury eligibility. “They’ll ask for your Social Security number and then it’s all over.”
You Don’t Know Who’s Coming and Going in Your Home. “Just how well do you know your roommate or your roomate’s friends?” asks Levin. He says identity thieves are increasingly becoming people the victims know.
“It could also be the delivery man that pokes his head in and looks around and finds some valuable information to use.”
You’re an Early Adapter. Staying up to date with the latest technology and gadgets is not only hard on a wallet, it can also compromise personal information.
“I realize they’re as dry as the Gobi desert, but companies are storing a lot of data and if that’s breached that means a lot of information is vulnerable.”
You Don’t Check Your Credit Report. “Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, it’s not necessarily those that are high credit active. It’s increasingly becoming those that aren’t credit active, particularly seniors and even infants,” says Springer.
Some of the most telltale signs of identity theft show up on a credit report first. “A drop in score, an address change or request of one, and unfamiliar accounts should all signal alarm.”
Experts recommend consumers review their free annual credit reports from one of the three main bureaus every four months.