There are few things Americans can agree on. Even the most lopsided presidential elections, for example, left 4 of 10 voters unconvinced that the winner was the right person for the job. Despite our variety of opinion, however, half of Americans agree that they are at risk of losing money to identity theft over the next year, according to a new Harris Poll survey.
According to a survey cited by Forbes, 56 percent of American admitted to having less than $1,000 combined in their checking and savings accounts, which suggests that many may be unprepared to handle the financial consequences of identity theft.
What’s more, the Harris Poll survey, which was conducted on behalf of the American Institute of CPAs this March, found that 1 in every 5 Americans fell victim to ID theft last year, legitimizing the nation’s concerns about their security going forward.
The one bright spot in the report was that after having their identities compromised, nearly all victims took action to lock down their accounts and prevent additional financial loss. Of the 93 percent who acted:
72 percent contacted their card companies to report the theft.
50 percent paid with cash or checks more than they otherwise would have.
46 percent reduced the number of online transactions they made.
29 percent placed a freeze on their credit.
Other steps you can take if you believe your identity has been compromised include requesting a fraud alert on your credit report, changing the passwords to your online accounts and signing up with a credit monitoring service to better prepare you should it happen again.
Protecting your identity
While these measures are undoubtedly crucial to keeping your accounts secure after identity theft, they are only effective once you realize you have become a victim. Unfortunately, unlike physical theft, ID theft leaves little trace, making it difficult to detect. Therefore, you must be proactive to protect your identity and your accounts from fraudsters.
“There are basic steps people can take right now, before identity theft causes a financial nightmare,” said Gregory Anton, chair of the AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission, in a news release. “Securing your personal information and only providing your social security number when it is absolutely necessary are easy steps to take.”
The National CPA Financial Literacy Commission also offered the following tips to help you better protect your identity:
Review both your credit report and your children’s report’s at least once a year.
Use online banking tools to check your account statements daily.
Protect your accounts with strong passwords, and be sure to change them regularly.
Report cases of identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission, your local police department and the credit bureaus.
Using a credit monitoring service
In addition to these basic precautions, you should also consider other tools that may help. Credit monitoring companies like Identity Guard can keep an eye on your credit report when you can’t, notifying you of certain activity you may have missed that could indicate fraud. They can also monitor the Web, tracking whether your personal information is shared on certain black market sites and alerting you when they detect certain activity that may suggest your information has been compromised. With your credit monitoring service giving you a head start, you will then have the opportunity to take action to try to limit or repair the damage a fraudster could levy on your accounts.