Identity theft continues to be one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States. And as the state’s leading prosecutor, Attorney General Roy Cooper knows all too well the havoc it can wreak…especially online.
“They will email you. They will text you. They will create fake websites that look extraordinarily real,” says Cooper. “They will lure you in to try to get you to give them your personal information.”
Identity theft has topped the list of consumer complaints filed with the federal trade commission for more than a decade. Millions are affected across the country each year and the cyber-attacks on companies like Anthem health insurance and Sony only prove that things are going to get worse before they get better.
“We’re seeing this more and more. It certainly can potentially compromise our economy, particularly if they attack banks and Wall Street,” Cooper says.
Identity theft is simple. An imposter obtains key pieces of what law enforcement calls “PII” or personal identifying information and uses it for their own personal gain.
“Once you’re caught in that circle,” says cooper, “once someone has stolen your Social Security number or critical pieces of information about you, they can create accounts in your name and cause you problems for years to come.”
Financial ID theft is by far the most common. According to the most recent statistics, it’s costing everyone tens of billions of dollars a year.
“When you are a victim of identity theft, you have to prove a negative. You have to prove that it wasn’t you who used your name or your Social Security number,” Cooper says.
All week long we’ve been talking about ways to protect yourself. Here’s a recap…
- Guard that Social Security number with your life. It’s an ID thief’s skeleton key. Never carry your card with you and when anyone says they need it to provide you a service, question them. Why do they need it? How will it be used? How will they protect it? The decision to share is yours and yours alone.
- Be careful what kind of information you are sharing on social media. Too much personal information can give the bad guys the keys to your “challenge questions” on your accounts. Make sure every piece of sensitive information is deleted from a computer or mobile device before you dispose of them. You may have to consult the user’s manual for how to permanently delete all data.
- Be wise about WiFi. It’s publicly available everywhere these days. Make sure the network is secure. Coffee shops, libraries, malls, the airport…if you’re not sure, ask.
It seems like a lot of work. But the steps are actually pretty simple. There are no guarantees, but if you follow them and keep an eye on your credit report, you can make it that much harder for someone to steal your identity.