Consumers can never let their guard down when it comes to identity theft. Personal information is much more accessible in an increasingly digital world. Consequently, instances of identity theft and consumer fraud continue to grow.
• The Identity Theft Research Center (ITRC) reported a record number of data compromises in the United States in 2021, amounting to a 68 percent increase over 2020.
• The Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network received more than 5.7 million reports of fraud and identity theft in 2021.
• In Canada, there are 12 victims of identity theft per every 100,000 residents and 52 victims of ID fraud.
• Many North Americans have been victims of COVID-19-related fraud, including scams involving fake testing, vaccines and treatments, and charities.
The FTC says identity theft is when someone uses your personal or financial information without your consent. Commonly stolen data includes addresses, credit card numbers, bank account information, Social Security numbers, or medical insurance numbers.
Though thieves can gather information by intercepting it through digital channels or simply by stealing mail or going through trash, many times people inadvertently share personal information with scammers themselves. Here’s a look at five common scams.
1. Phone scams
Phone scams may involve telemarketers trying to sell you something in exchange for personal information given over the phone, as well as people impersonating government agencies or credit card companies. “Please confirm account information” or “We’ll need your financial information to process” are some of the phrases these scams utilize. Never give out personal information over the phone unless you’ve confirmed the individual you’re speaking to is legitimate.
2. Text links
The Pew Research Center says 81 percent of adult mobile phone users use text messages regularly. Scammers utilize text messages to try to gain information. The text includes a link to a site that will request personal information. Do not respond to such texts and avoid clicking on the links.
3. Phishing emails
Phishing emails look like they are coming from legitimate sources, but they often contain malware that can infiltrate computers and other devices to steal identity data. Phishing increased during the COVID-19 lockdowns as more people were working from home, according to the ITRC.
4. Medicare card verification
Older individuals long have been targets of criminals. Seniors are now being called, emailed or even visited in person by scammers claiming to represent Medicare. Perpetrators of this scam offer new services or new chipped Medicare cards in exchange for verification of Medicare identification numbers. Medicare numbers should be carefully guarded, and seniors should keep in mind it’s highly unlikely Medicare representatives will contact them in this way.
5. Data breaches
It’s not just a home computer or phone breach you need to worry about. According to ARAG Legal, security experts indicate many major companies are being breached. By the time it’s discovered that data was stolen, your personal information, which usually includes credit card numbers, email addresses and home addresses, has been circulating for some time. While it’s impossible for private citizens to prevent this type of data breach, a credit monitoring service can alert consumers if their information shows up where it seemingly doesn’t belong.
Identity theft is an ever-present threat and consumers must exercise due diligence to protect their personal information.
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