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Survey: Most People Concerned about Identity Theft, but Stop Short of Protection
Tuesday, July 8, 2014 6:25 AM

Identity theft is America's fastest-growing crime, yet the majority of adults in the U.S. aren't taking steps to protect themselves and outsmart thieves, according to a recent TransUnion survey.

The national survey of men and women revealed that 80 percent of adults worry about becoming a victim of identity theft. However, although most people understand the concept of identity theft, very few fully know what puts them at risk and how they can beat identity thieves at their own game. 

More than half of adults check their credit score once a year or less, and the majority don't understand they can fall prey to identify theft everywhere, including in stores, online and through social media, according to the survey.

The risk of identity theft is not new and the basic strategies for doing it have not changed in decades, yet few people have taken steps to make their identity more secure. Last year alone, more than 13 million Americans fell victim to fraud from identity theft, an increase of about half a million people from the prior year, according to a recent report from Javelin Strategy & Research.

Despite high awareness of identity theft following recent security breaches at Target, Michaels and P.F. Chang's, behaviors haven't changed. When comparing their perceived levels of risk, only 34 percent believe using their debit or credit card at a retail store puts them at risk while 60 percent believe online shopping puts them at risk. Additionally, more than one-quarter of adults surveyed said posting to social sites has the least risk of them falling prey to identity theft.

Even after news of the recent security breaches spread across the U.S., only one in five adults have purchased or used an identity theft protection service. However, 79 percent of people surveyed agreed that these kinds of services would be somewhat or very effective.

Following are a few simple tips to prevent identity theft:

  • Only carry essential documents with you. Don't carry extra credit cards, your Social Security card, birth certificate or passport with you outside the house. 
  • Keep new checks out of the mail. When ordering new checks, pick them up at the bank instead of having them sent to your home. This makes it harder for your checks to be stolen, altered and cashed by identity thieves.
  • Be careful when giving out personal information over the phone. Identity thieves may call, posing as banks or government agencies. Don't give out personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call.
  • Stay on top of your credit. Take advantage of your annual free credit report, at www.annualcreditreport.com.
  • Follow your credit card billing cycles closely. Identity thieves can start by changing your billing address. Making sure you receive your credit card bill every month is an easy way to prevent identity theft.
  • Create passwords or PIN numbers out of a random mix of letters and numbers. Doing so makes it harder for identity thieves to discover these codes, and makes it easier for you to prevent fraud.