With more than 13 million victims in 2013, identity theft is the fastest-growing crime in the country. Consumers are six times more likely to be a victim of identity theft than burglary and 500 times more likely to have their ID stolen than their purse. Most people lock their doors and keep a watchful eye on their handbags, so why aren’t they doing more to protect themselves against identity theft?
Unfortunately, there are many common myths that keep consumers from properly protecting themselves against identity theft. We’re here to bust those myths and shine light on the truth.
8 Identity Theft Myths You Need to Stop Believing
1. Identity theft is easily resolved.
Truth: The FTC estimates that it takes an average of six months and 200 hours of work to recover from an instance of identity theft — and victims are often targeted over and over again as their information gets traded among a vast network of criminals. Some things are easier to resolve than others: Reversing fraudulent credit card charges or bank transactions are fairly basic issues. The more complex ones include tracking and closing any new accounts in your name, reversing false tax return filings and resolving medical procedures billed under your health insurance.
Tip: Stay on top of the resolution process by using the FTC’s identity recovery checklist, sign up for a credit monitoring service so you will get alerted every time there is a new inquiry or account opened in your name, and stagger your free yearly credit reports so you get one every three months.
2. Consumers are protected by zero liability policies.
Truth: Only 24 percent of identity theft victims suffer no direct financial loss. Banks and credit card companies will usually reimburse you right away for fraudulent charges, but identity theft still ends up costing victims an average of $1,400 in out-of-pocket expenses. Also, some banks have policies that only reimburse victims for card charges, not ATM activity, and there may be a limit to how much you can be reimbursed without requiring an investigation first.
Tip: Check your bank account and credit card statements regularly for fraudulent activity. Know the details of your zero liability policies and have a back-up plan if they don’t provide enough coverage. Also, see myth No. 6.
3. Avoiding shopping online is the best protection against identity theft.
Truth: More than half of all identity theft happens offline. Online data breaches are very real threats, but identity theft most often takes place through stolen social security cards and licenses. More recently, consumers have also become vulnerable to credit card skimmers, physical devices that attach to card readers and capture card information and PIN numbers.
Tip: Protect yourself by checking for the “https” at the beginning of a URL when shopping online or entering sensitive information. Shield the keypad when typing your PIN number at gas pumps, ATMs or other points-of-sale. If you still have concerns, just use a different machine altogether.
4. Shredding documents will keep thieves from accessing your address.
Truth: Your address and other personal information is easily accessible online. Also, a portion of identity theft involves a friend, family member or someone who works in the home — all people who already have access to your address. While shredding documents is a good step in protecting yourself, it is not the be-all and end-all.
Tip: Place a temporary stop mail with your local post office while you are out of town. At home, keep your mail out of sight and lock up important documents. Shredding does provide an extra layer or protection, so here’s a helpful checklist on what to shred.
5. Identity theft only affects adults.
Truth: 140,000 children each year are victims of child identity theft. Children are particularly vulnerable to identity theft because their information can usually be used for a very long time without being detected. It is most common for a family member, friend or someone on a school’s staff to steal the child’s information. A thief can use a child’s personal information to obtain a driver’s license, assume the child’s identity when caught in a criminal act, apply for government benefits, open loans or rent a place to live.
Tip: The three major credit bureaus have a system in place for parents to check on a child’s credit and you can request an annual Social Security Earnings record to see if anyone has used your child’s social security card to obtain a job. Current law does not require a social security number to enroll in school; so if someone wants it, ask why it is needed and how the information will be protected.
6. Debit cards are safer than credit cards.
Truth: Credit cards are much safer to use than debit cards. Debit card liability for consumers is capped at $50 unless you fail to report the fraud within two days, then the liability jumps to $500. If you take longer than 60 days to report it, the liability is unlimited. The four major credit card networks cap consumer liability at $50. Period.
Also, debit cards are connected to your bank accounts and if stolen, your cash is gone until you can resolve the issue with your bank. If a credit card is stolen, the thief is stealing the bank’s money; you will still have access to cash to pay rent and bills and withdraw money from the ATM and your authorized transactions will still continue to clear through your bank account. You won’t have to worry about overdrafts, fees or returned checks.
Tip: If you have the self-control and budgeting skills, the safest thing to do is use a credit card as often as possible and pay it off in full each month.
7. Identity theft victims can count on the police for justice.
Truth: Only a small fraction of identity thefts are prosecuted and filing a police report will only protect you against financial claims from debt collectors or other businesses. Police departments can do very little to investigate and prosecute identity theft. The very nature of the crime makes it difficult to prosecute, as it usually involves multiple jurisdictions, states or even countries, all of which is further complicated if use of the internet is also involved.
Tip: Always file a police report to protect yourself. First, file a complaint with the FTC and print out your Theft Affidavit. Bring the affidavit with you to file a police report and create an Identity Theft Report. You can use the Identity Theft Report to help get false information taken off your credit reports, stop a company from collecting debts and place an extended fraud alert on your credit reports.
8. Privacy settings on social networks protect against identity theft.
Truth: Simple status updates, check-ins and even photos can be used by cyber criminals to steal your identity. Posting about your vacation puts you at risk for burglary and photos can be tracked to the owner’s home address. Also, social networking sites ask for a wide variety of personal information like birthdays, addresses, phone numbers, and employment and education history, which makes users vulnerable to identity theft.
Tip: Put your privacy settings on lockdown. Be mindful of what you post, disable geotagging on your smartphone, and ask friends and family members to refrain from checking you in or tagging you in updates. Limit the information you disclose on your personal profile and be selective about who you allow to follow you.