Despite increased awareness of the risks of data breaches and identity theft, online security is more vulnerable than ever. Statistics from the Identity Theft Resource Center show 2016 as a record-setting year in data breaches, with 980 breaches and more than 35 million records compromised. Furthermore, the latest report on identity theft from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, published in 2015, shows nearly 18 million people were identity theft victims in 2014, up from 2012.
Make a resolution to be more vigilant about your identity in 2017. A good place to start is to find out who is most at risk for identity theft. Here are some contributing factors to be aware of:
Three main age groups stand out among victims of identity theft: the elderly, college students and children. The Bureau of Justice reports the number of elderly victims grew by 25 percent between 2012 and 2014. In children, identity theft victims as young as 5 months old have been reported. Because a child’s identity is less-likely to be monitored, children are more than 50 times more likely to be victims than adults.
A 2014 report done by Javelin Strategy and Research shows college students as three times more likely to be a victim of fraud than other adults, given they’re often applying for credit cards for the first time. It’s also important to note that students are four times more likely than other consumers to have their identity stolen by someone they know.
Income and Education
A higher level of education as well as higher income both put you more at risk for identity theft. A study by AARP shows those who have a college degree or post-graduate education are up to 10 percent more likely to be an identity theft victim than those with only some or no college education.
For households with incomes of $50,000 or higher, the identity theft risk increases exponentially compared to households with lesser incomes. Less than 10 percent of households making under $50,000 are reported to be identity theft victims, while approximately 16 percent of households making $50,000 or more experience identity theft. Households that make more purchases, have more money in bank accounts and often draw money from an ATM are more at risk.
States of Residence
Even where you live can influence identity theft risk. A synthesis of the aforementioned Identity Theft Resource Center, taking into account factors such as average loss amount due to fraud and identity theft complaints per capita, found residents in these 10 areas to be most at risk for identity theft:
- The District of Columbia
Factors ranging from dominant demographics to income levels all contribute to why these areas land in the top 10.
Level of Information Sharing
While the above demographics may point to an increased risk level for you, the people who are most at risk to be victims of identity theft are often those who do not take measures to proactively protect their information with an identity monitoring service. Being too open with your information can be harmful, as a 2016 study by ID Analytics points to positive correlation between how much personal information is shared online and how likely a person is to be a victim of fraud.
To protect your information and consistently monitor your threat, use these techniques:
- Be cautious about what you share online. From posting your address on your Facebook page, to providing your social security number in exchange for a free gift, every time you give out your personal information, you increase the likelihood of it becoming accessible to identity thieves.
- Use complex passwords and change them often. Password breaches continue to be a common form of identity theft. Investing in a hard-to-guess password is wise. Use a spreadsheet or password organizer to keep track of passwords, each of which should be distinct and complex.
- Take care offline. Identity theft doesn’t just happen online. Calls from telemarketers asking for personal information are a red flag. Also, be sure to lock your mailbox and car, especially if you have personal documents in it.
- Protect your smartphone. More is being done on smartphones than ever before, including logging into online banking and shopping. Make sure to only use apps that use industry-grade encryption methods, and be sure to password-protect your phone at all times.
Even cautious people who regularly monitor bank activity and credit reports can still fall victim to identity theft. Investing in a professional service that monitors all your accounts for you and stops thieves as soon as dangerous activity occurs is the only way to ensure total protection.