February 24, 2012 - (Excerpted from an article by Reuters' Mitch Lipka) Nearly 12 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2011, an increase of 13 percent over 2010, according to a report released on February 8 by the research firm Javelin Strategy & Research.
The rise in the use of smartphones and social media by incautious consumers fueled the increase in identity fraud, and 2011 was a year of several big data breaches too, Javenlin said.
With the rise in credit card monitoring and more sophisticated policing by credit card companies, identity thieves are increasingly targeting users of smartphones and social media, where consumers have a tendency to be less cautious, experts say.
Someone whose personal information is taken in a data breach is 9.5 times more likely to become a victim of identity fraud, Javelin found.
For every advancement made on the protection side, consumers remain vulnerable due to the resourcefulness of crooks.
In 2011, some of the biggest data thefts ever recorded took place. In the attacks on the PlayStation network, hackers obtained the personal information of tens of millions of users and the credit card numbers of some.
Also last year, hackers stole millions of names and email addresses from Epsilon, the marketing division of Alliance Data Systems Corp. That firm sends email marketing information on behalf of major banks, retailers and hotels, among others. Citigroup Inc. also reported a large data theft.
About 7 percent of all smartphone users fell victim to identity fraud in 2011, according to Javelin. Smartphone users were about a third more likely to become victims than non-users. Javelin found 62 percent of smartphone users do not use password protection for their home screens; this allows anyone who finds or takes their phones to have access to the contents.
Javelin also found that many social media users reveal too much personal information, including their birth dates, where they went to high school, their phone number and other information used to verify identity.
Here are some tips to avoid becoming a victim of identity fraud:
Password protect your home and mobile devices. Avoid exposing personal information that can be used by someone else for identity verification.
Be careful about the apps you download. Only download through a service that monitors the apps, such as iTunes (others may collect your personal information).
Share information carefully when you are on a public wifi network.
Monitor your credit cards by checking their use online or reading the statement carefully. Quickly report to the your credit card issuer if you see any suspicious transactions.
Take data breach notifications seriously. If your data has been accessed, consider subscribing to a credit-monitoring service, which often is offered for free for a year by the company that had been breached.
For more information on identity theft, see our VHPD page.