Identity theft is dominating headlines as the number of Americans who fall victim to the crime continues to climb each year. The Better Business Bureau announced measures Americans should take to better protect their personal information from criminal activity.
Many Americans increase their risk of identity theft by carrying more credit cards than they need. The BBB recommends that consumers only carry cash or the essential credit or debit cards they plan to use that day. Despite the recent string of data breaches and identity theft that occurs online, criminals can obtain personal information just as easily by stealing a purse or wallet filled with credit cards. In the event that a wallet or purse is lost or stolen, consumers will only have to cancel one card as opposed to four or five.
"Consumers should be aware that, as convenient as they are, credit and debit cards can pose a serious risk if lost or stolen," says president and CEO of the eastern North Carolina BBB branch, Beverly Baskin. "Taking simple steps to protect themselves can reduce these risks," Baskin comments.
Consumers who write "Check photo" on the back of credit and debit cards may also reduce their risk of identity theft. It may be simple for criminals to fraudulently obtain a credit card in someone else's name, but the reminder message on the back of the card may inhibit them from being able to use it in person. Many banks also provide credit/debit cards with a photograph of the cardholder on the front of the card.
When it comes to preventing identity theft, credit monitoring is just as important as safeguarding personal information. Examining credit card and bank statements for suspicious transactions may help a consumer spot fraudulent activity more quickly. Consumers are also entitled to receive a free credit report each year, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Individuals should inspect credit reports for lines of credit opened fraudulently in their name.
Consumers are encouraged to properly dispose of pre-approved credit cards. Criminals can find unopened credit card offers in an individual's trash and order a credit card in that person's name. Shredding statements and credit card offers will reduce the risk of personal information being found and used for criminal purposes.
More than 11 million cases of identity theft were reported last year, making it one of the fastest-growing crimes in the United States.