More and more Americans are victimized by some sort of identity theft every day, and now the federal government has decided to call attention to the growing threat in hopes of increasing vigilance nationwide.
The U.S. Senate recently passed a resolution that named June "National Internet Safety Month" so that more Americans, especially children and teens, become more aware of the dangers lurking on the internet. According to the Fort Scott (Kansas) Tribune, internet safety organizations, law enforcement agencies, educators, community leaders, parents and volunteers are being encouraged to promote awareness of online threats, which include the very real prospect of identity theft.
Many in the U.S. may not be aware that their identity is constantly at risk online. One expert told the paper that there were about 11 million cases of identity theft in 2009, much of which was done online.
One of the most common threats, the Tribune said, is "phishing." With this scam, an identity thief will contact a number of random users online posing as a bank or credit card company in an attempt to get their personal information, which the thief would then use to commit fraud. However, consumers should be aware that reputable institutions would not contact a customer seeking personal information.
Other scams involve peer-to-peer networks and file-sharing programs, which identity thieves use to gain access to any computer that's turned on. If one's hard drive contains critical information or documents, then these programs pose a real threat, the report said.
The expert also pointed out the dangers of social networking sites like Facebook, where users commonly post their full names, home addresses and even cell phone numbers. This practice is not only unnecessary, but it's risky as well, the paper said, and since young people are Facebook's most common users, they are more at risk than others to such threats.
While there is no way for consumers to completely insulate themselves from identity theft, the best advice the paper gave was to simply be smart when online: be careful about giving out personal information, limit or discontinue use of file-sharing networks, and contact the credit bureaus for periodic fraud alerts.
A report in New Jersey Today said that a file-sharing network was to blame for a recent security breach that released a sensitive memo about an ethics investigation of 30 House legislators and staffers.