Is Anyone’s Personal Information Safe?
For many years, stories about personal identity theft have permeated the daily news. We are warned our personal computers and smart phones can easily become the target of phishing and encouraged to maintain the most up-to-date security software on our devices.
According to a 2011 report released by the United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), an estimated 8.6 million households had at least one person age 12 or older, who became a victim of identity theft during 2010. The BJS reports approximately $13.3 billion in direct financial losses. Understandably, this number increases annually. Experts estimate the current number of U.S. victims to be 15 million individuals annually, and upwards to $50 billion in financial losses.
On December 4, 2012, the Identity Theft Assistance Center (ITAC), issued the Child Identity Fraud Survey Report reporting theft of children’s social security numbers are the most commonly used piece of information of identity thieves targeting children. The report also identifies some victimization occurring within the children’s own home by their own family members. ITAC have been reporting increasing incidents of minor identity theft where identity thieves combine a child’s social security number with a fictitious date of birth, creating a new “synthetic” identification that authorities claim is very difficult to detect.
While some criminals steal wallets, mail, and rummage through garbage bins, the 21st Century criminal has advanced using technology to infiltrate our homes, corporations, and government offices for personal information. We are now hearing more and more instances of government and corporate databases that have been lost, stolen, breached, and even sold.
From AOL, Taco Bell, Aetna, Google, Twitter, Walgreens, FEMA, and even New York City Police Department, personal information continues to wind up in the hands of criminals. Stories abound about government or corporate entity’s database systems hacked, customer files found in trash bins, employee theft, and even stolen or lost laptops containing personal information of customers and employees. Considering the damage that can quickly follows any incident of identity theft, experts recommend being proactive to protect personal identification.
According to Thomas Lauth, owner of Lauth Investigations International and a respected private investigator with twenty-year’s experience, “one can never be too careful when protecting their personal information”. Lauth warns personal information is used to not only create new identities, but corporations are targeted by thieves to steal trade secrets, sell client data to competitors, to personal stalking, and even murder. He states, “In this day and age, we must not take our privacy for granted and as citizens we need corporate and government agencies to take precautions to handle our personal information responsibly by implementing additional security precautions.”
Some tips to help keep your information safe
- Keep all personal documents, social security cards, and birth certificates locked in a safe place.
- Shred anything with your name and address on it instead of tossing the items into the trash. A crosscut shredder is recommended.
- Never provide a social security number online or over the phone.
- Password-protect or encrypt all personal information on your computer. Maintain up-to-date protection on your computer.
- Do not click on any link sent in an email unless you know the sender. Merely clicking on a link can install phishing and spyware on the computer. Instead, call or personally visit the financial institution or provider to provide information if required.
- Make sure there has not been a Change of Address request placed with USPS. Thieves will commonly attempt to divert mail so they can obtain billing statements and credit card offers.
- When asked to provide personal information by a medical provider, educational institution, utility company, or governmental agency, ask how they will protect your personal information.
- Corporations, educational, medical, and governmental entities are encouraged to contact Lauth Investigations International to find out how they can better protect their client’s information.