NEW YORK (3/5/13)--Identity fraudsters made off with $21 billion from 12.6 million victims in 2012. Overall, slightly more than one of 20 consumers, 5.26%, learned they were victims last year (NBC News
Javelin Strategy and Research's 2013 Identity Fraud Report released in February identified a 50% increase in the incidence of new account fraud, where the thief uses your personal information to fraudulently open new credit cards or loans in your name. Despite that dramatic increase, the study's author reported that simple credit card fraud still accounts for roughly two-thirds of all identity fraud.
Data breaches are especially troublesome. Almost one out of four consumers who received a data breach notification last year became a fraud victim. If you received a notice that your Social Security number was compromised by a data breach, you were five times more likely than other consumers to be a victim of identity fraud, and 14 times more likely to become a victim of new-account fraud.
Tablet owners are 80% more likely than all other consumers to become fraud victims, which researchers attributed to tablet users being younger and less risk-averse than older consumers.
How do crooks obtain your information? Still most common are traditional methods such as stolen wallets and "familiar frauds" where the victim knows the perpetrator who has access to statements or other legal documents.
What's your best defense?
Protect your mobile device. Install antivirus/anti-malware software to protect personal information you store and transmit. Make sure your operating systems are the latest versions, because updates patch security holes. And install or enable a passcode lock on your smartphone.
Be social-media smart. While on social networking sites, don't reveal personal details that crooks can use to crack security questions for your financial accounts and credit card logins. Verify that apps don't access any personally identifiable information.
Be wary of Wi-Fi. Don't access financial accounts in public Wi-Fi hotspots such as cafés, public libraries, or airports; 7.4% of consumers who did in the past 12 months became fraud victims, compared with 4.6% who did not.
Stay safe offline. Secure your financial records at home in a locked storage device. Shred paper documents that contain sensitive information. Request electronic statements and use online bill pay and direct deposit. Don't put checks in an unlocked mailbox. And opt out of preapproved credit offers--call 888-5-optout (888-567-8688).
For more information, read "Tax ID Theft: One Million Fraudulent Returns Expected" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.