Despite years of battling by the financial industry and a significant change in the way Americans use debit and credit cards, the rate of identity theft soared during 2016 and hit an all-time high.
An estimated 15.4 million consumers were victims of some type of ID theft in 2016, according to a report from Javelin Strategy & Research. That number is up from 13.1 million in 2015.
Julie Shook, executive vice president and sales manager for Arvest Bank in Springdale, said it’s important for consumers to know how to help protect themselves from identity thieves.
“We understand how much people enjoy the holiday season,” Shook said. “But we also want to remind everyone that December is Identity Theft Prevention and Awareness Month. Those kinds of [identify theft] attacks can have long-lasting effects on your credit and bank accounts.”
With that in mind, here are some tips created by the Federal Trade Commission that can help consumers avoid identity theft.
- Lock your financial documents and records in a safe place at home, and lock your wallet or purse in a safe place at work.
- Limit what you carry. When you go out, take only the identification, credit, and debit cards you need. Leave your Social Security card at home.
- Before you share information at your workplace, a business, your child’s school, or a doctor’s office, ask why they need it, how they will safeguard it, and the consequences of not sharing.
- Shred receipts, credit applications and offers, insurance forms, checks, bank statements, expired charge cards, and similar documents when you don’t need them any longer.
- Take outgoing mail to post office collection boxes or the post office. Promptly remove mail that arrives in your mailbox. If you won’t be home for several days, request a vacation hold on your mail.
- Before you dispose of a computer, get rid of all the personal information it stores. Use a wipe utility program to overwrite the entire hard drive.
- Before you dispose of a mobile device, check your owner’s manual, the service provider’s website, or the device manufacturer’s website for information on how to delete information permanently, and how to save or transfer information to a new device.
- Keep your browser secure. To guard your online transactions, use encryption software that scrambles information you send over the internet. A “lock” icon on the status bar of your internet browser means your information will be safe when it’s transmitted. Look for the lock before you send personal or financial information online.
- Use strong passwords with your laptop, credit, bank, and other accounts. Be creative: think of a special phrase and use the first letter of each word as your password. Substitute numbers for some words or letters. For example, “I want to see the Pacific Ocean” could become 1W2CtPo.
- If you post too much information about yourself via social media, an identity thief can find information about your life, use it to answer ‘challenge’ questions on your accounts, and get access to your money and personal information. Consider limiting access to your networking page to a small group of people. Never post your full name, Social Security number, address, phone number, or account numbers in publicly accessible sites.
- Install anti-virus software, anti-spyware software, and a firewall. Set your preference to update these protections often.
- Don’t open files, click on links, or download programs sent by strangers.
- Before you send personal information over your laptop or smartphone on a public wireless network in a public place, see if your information will be protected. If you use an encrypted website, it protects only the information you send to and from that site. If you use a secure wireless network, all the information you send on that network is protected.
- Don’t use an automatic login feature that saves your user name and password, and always log off when you’re finished.