All of the publicity surrounding the prevalence of identity theft may make some Americans feel vulnerable, but one study reminds consumers that taking action can help them protect themselves.
An unprecedented collaboration between Verizon Wireless and the U.S. Secret Service has resulted in a report discussing the incidence of identity theft and how consumers and businesses alike can fight to prevent it. The 2010 Data Breach Investigations Report highlights steps that can be taken to provide more safeguards to personal information in both a personal and business setting.
According to the report - which examined data breaches involving more than 900 million records - the majority of personal information is obtained from financial institutions, hospitality industries and the retail sector.
"Some consumers may feel they're powerless to protect themselves from data thefts involving large corporations," Verizon security expert and the principal author of the report Wade Baker said. "But there are any number of common-sense approaches that everyone can and should be taking to protect their identity and financial information."
Wade advises Americans to use a strong, unique password for each website they visit as opposed to using the same password for a consumer's credit card account, insurance website and Facebook page. Even if the password itself is unique - by containing a mixture of upper- and lower-cases letters, numbers and symbols - a thief can easily gain access to all of a consumer's accounts if they don't mix up their login information.
The report also encourages citizens to ask their lending institutions, retailers and insurance agents what type of security measures they have in place to protect their personal information. Understanding these safeguards and knowing how different measures protect their information may put consumers at ease or prompt them to pay with cash or credit cards - which generally offer more protection to consumers than debit cards.
The big one that many Americans may fail to do is monitor their credit history. Whether it be a delinquent payment or a new account being opened, a consumer's credit report will tell them everything going on in their finances. Many Americans may have missed out on detecting identity theft for months because they were not monitoring their credit.
Vigilance at the ATM, kiosks or retail stores may also help consumers detect faulty machinery, strange devices or strangers behaving oddly. Individuals should trust their instincts if they pick up something that doesn't feel quite right.