Identity theft targeted more than 11 million Americans last year.
So it may be no wonder that it remains among their top financial concerns. A recent study conducted by Recall North American and commissioned by Harris Interactive showed that nine out of 10 consumers were at least somewhat concerned about identity theft, while about half of these individuals were extremely or very concerned.
This type of crime can have devastating effects on a consumer's finances and credit history. An identity thief may open accounts using stolen information and wilt away at their victim's savings.
Consumers may be able to protect themselves by shredding documents containing personal information and protecting their online activity by installing antivirus software. They may also monitor their accounts by requesting a credit report and paying close attention to monthly bills.
Many of these same tactics can be useful to businesses, which may suffer significant financial losses if their personnel or customer information is compromised. These losses may include reduced revenue if consumers no longer trust a retailer's ability to safely make transactions.
Businesses should protect all computer systems that store sensitive data. This may mean training employees properly as well as installing antivirus software. These programs can detect malware often used by scammers to detect and record keystrokes, particularly when users access banking websites. Businesses can also compare monthly credit card statements to receipts to make sure that no fraudulent charges have been issued. Businesses should also look into document management, according to the report.
"The number one thing businesses - namely physician's offices and law firms - can do to ensure the security of their client's information is to find a trusted industry leader in information management to store and destroy their documents," Tim McBride, vice president and general manager at Recall, said.
Consumers and businesses both should notify their lender if they notice a fraudulent transaction on their account. This may be enough to remove charges and close any compromised accounts.
Victims of identity theft should also help prevent further crime by reporting the incident to the Federal Trade Commission. Such crimes accounted for 21 percent of complaints filed to the FTC in 2009, according to a recent report.