Identity Theft Myths Exposed
By Melinda Powelson
"Rumor is around the world before truth has a chance to get on his shoes." Identity theft is a perfect example of this old cliché. The media and insurance industry has created a fear of identity theft that far outpaces the real threat. Contrary to most reporting, the number of identity theft victims is declining and has been for several years. This decline is not the result of monitoring services but of individuals and businesses being more careful with personal information.
Everyday dozens of news article are published about identity theft and every one includes the phrase "fastest growing crime." Just this month The Daily Kansan, The San Diego Business Journal, the MetroWest Daily News, WCSH TV and the Los Angeles Times included this phrase in an article.
But where do they get their information? The statistics from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) show the opposite. A 2003 FTC survey, reported that 10.1 million U.S. residents were victims of identity theft with $51.4 billion stolen. The next year the BBB reported 9.3 million victims with $52.6 billion in losses. While the amount of money stolen is increasing the number of victims is down by 800,000.
The next big myth surrounding identity theft is that all the personal information is coming from data breaches like the missing laptop at the Veterans Administration or from phishing emails. Data breaches are rarely the result of a crime ring and normally the information ends up lost, not stolen. Only 0.2% of the names stolen ever end up in the thief's hands. Personal information collected from phishing is even more rare. Most computer users are now savvy enough to simply delete these emails.
Does that mean we can all relax now that identity theft is over? No, but don't loose sleep after each report of a data breach or waste money on identity theft insurance. It is likely our diligence is what is keeping this crime down. Here are some simple things you should be doing keep the thieves at bay.
Bank online – People who bank online have two advantages over their paper counterparts. They eliminate the risk of mail being stolen and they also detect any fraud much quicker. How quickly the fraud is detected is the biggest factor in amount stolen.
Shred – You need to shred everything with your name, address and account number. This gets to be drudgery for most people so use a home shredding service like Ship ' n' Shred to make shredding easy.
Secure your mail – Don't leave your personal information in an unsecured mailbox. Collect your mail as soon as possible when delivered and take your outgoing mail to the post office or other secured location.
Check your credit report – The credit bureaus are required to provide a free copy of your credit report every year. Check it for discrepancies and close out any accounts you no longer use.
Remain vigilant – The old advice still holds true. If it sounds too be good to be true, it probably isn't. Don't give away your personal information to people who call you or send you unsolicited emails.
Ship 'n' Shred, is the first shredding service designed for homes. It provides secure shredding at a reasonable price.
About the Author
Melinda Powelson is a freelance writer who focuses on security and personal privacy issues. Her book "The Recycler's Manual for Business, Government, and the Environmental Community" is available from fine booksellers everywhere.
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| Some other articles by Melinda Powelson