13,100,000.

That’s a pretty large number and, unfortunately, it represents the amount of people who were victims of identity theft in 2015.

From your computer to your mailbox to your local ATM, identity thieves are hard at work figuring out ways to steal your identity. Once they do, they can rack up bills and debt in your name without you even knowing about it. That’s why it’s so important to keep an eye on your credit report and FICO® Scores – but we’ll get to that a little later.

How thieves steal an identity.

With the advent of technology, identity theft has run rampant and that’s why the number of identity theft victims is in the millions every year. Some of the more popular ways thieves steal identities are:

  1. Phishing. This is when a thief sends an email to unsuspecting consumers who are directed to a “fake” web page (typically the consumer’s financial institution) and then requests passwords and other confidential information.
  2. ATM skimming. In this situation, a thief has attached a storage device to an ATM machine and picks up the information on your debit card when you swipe it.
  3. Mail. Thieves can steal your mail right from your mailbox (i.e. bank statements, credit card offers, tax information, etc.) and open new accounts in your name and even complete the “change of address” form in order to start receiving your mail.
  4. Hacking. Whether through a public Wi-Fi or your home network, hackers who get into your computer can download records and other personal information in order to use it for their own benefit.

These are just four of the many ways thieves can steal an identity. So is there a way to stop it? What can we do to help keep our information as secure as possible?

How to help protect your identity.

Since identity thieves work both online and offline, determining where they might strike next is an unknown. That’s why it’s important to watch for potential identity theft activity in all directions.

  • Protect your information.

From credit card applications to online shopping, it’s important to be aware of what information you’re providing, how secure it is and who has access to it. Even the smallest bit of information could be extremely valuable to an identity thief.

  • Socialize with smarts

Don’t post your full name, financial data, social security number, street address, birthdate or phone number on any social networking site. Criminals can easily piece this information together and steal your identity.

  • Protect your mobile phone with passwords and software

A password helps postpone the time it takes for a thief to access your phone’s data. Plus, software that remotely backs up and deletes your phone’s data can also help to avoid the potential theft of your important information.

  • Keep an eye on your credit report and FICO® Score

When it comes to guarding yourself against identity thieves, knowing your FICO® Score and watching your credit report on a consistent basis can help prevent any problems from getting out of hand.

If you feel your FICO® Score is a lot lower than you think it should be, that could be a sign that an identity thief might have gotten hold of your information. To know for sure, you can check your credit report and look for the following:

  • Incorrect Information:

Millions of people have mistakes on their credit report – from name and address errors to current and past account inaccuracies. However, an error that is totally out of the norm (i.e. a credit card account for which you never applied) could be a sign of identity theft.

  • Inquiries

Keep a consistent eye on who’s been checking your credit report. Inquiries that appear suspicious or were made without your permission could mean you need to keep a more attentive eye on your information.

  • New Accounts

Make sure that any new accounts listed on your credit report were opened by you. If you notice a new account that you did not open (or can’t remember opening), direct communication with that credit reporting agency should be your next step.

To lessen the possibility of becoming a victim of identity theft, keep these two thoughts in mind: be careful about the information you give out (both online and offline) and stay aware of what’s going on with your FICO® Score and credit reports. It’s a great start to keeping your identity out of the hands of thieves.

 

Want to know more about identity theft and ways to detect it quickly? Check out this credit education page at myFICO.

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Rob is a writer… of blogs, books and business. His financial investment experience combined with a long background in marketing credit protection services provides a source of information that helps fill the gaps on one’s journey toward financial well-being. His goal is simple: The more people he can help, the better.