The recent data breaches at Home Depot, Target, and even JP Morgan Chase have left millions of Americans at risk for identity theft. Retail stores are one thing, but then one of the largest financial institutions in the country, which employs state-of-the-art data protection techniques still can’t keep your data safe – it makes individuals think we need to take action ourselves to ensure our private information stays private.
The U.S. Department of Justice reports that in 2012 over 16 million people in the U.S. were victims of identity theft. The losses from this crime have amounted to over $24 billion. And it’s estimated that the crooks are increasing their take. One study found that from 2012 to 2013 the number of identity theft victims increased significantly.
Reports show that the criminals are getting better at using the information that they do hack. Indeed, some experts guessed that the JP Morgan Chase breach may have been a test to gather information for some larger purpose. This motive is speculated because although the criminals went to great lengths to get inside the bank’s systems, they didn’t access funds that they could have easily gotten.
This improvement in using the hacked data can be shown by this figure:
- In 2012 — Ratio of breaches to identity fraud: 1:9
- In 2013 – Ratio of breaches to identity fraud: 1:3
“What can I do to help protect myself?”
The AARP magazine recently posted some tips to help people be aware of identity theft possibilities.
The first fact is that older people are higher targets for identity theft. In part, this is because some elderly citizens can be trusting and vulnerable and also have less access to a computer to regularly monitor their own accounts. As opposed to younger people, older people also tend to have more accounts in their names and have better credit to access.
Experts note there are two levels of cyber attacks: high-tech versus low tech. The high-tech crimes, like the high profile corporate data breaches, are often tied to organized crime. There is little the average resident can do to prevent this action, but the best precaution is to regularly monitor all of your financial accounts.
It’s the low-tech thieves that the average person can work to keep an eye on. Some of their low-tech strategies include breaking into cars, stealing mail, and burglarizing homes to get financial information. Here are some tips to guard against the low-tech thieves:
- Be sure to have a locking mailbox or get a Post Office box.
- Make it a practice never to leave your purse, wallet or mail in your car.
- Shred documents that contain personal information.
- Use passcodes for your electronic devices so if they are stolen, thieves can’t access your information.
And of course, in all cases, one of the best protection devices is to monitor your financial accounts regularly.