The truth is that anyone with a Social Security number can be a victim of identity theft. Once thieves have someone’s personal information they can charge credit cards, open new accounts, drain bank accounts and generally wreak havoc in the victim’s life regardless of who they are, how old they are, or where they live.
But which groups are most at risk for identity theft? The reality is that identity theft can affect the very young to the very old. Although in 2019, the largest number of identity thefts occurred in Michigan, Florida and California, it really doesn’t matter where you live. No one is immune. You can take steps to prevent yourself from becoming one of the 651,000 targeted in 2020.
Let’s take a closer look at the data to uncover who is most at risk and bust some identity theft myths.
Who is Most at Risk of Identity Theft?
Headlines report that the very young and the very old are the most-frequent targets of identity theft. In reality, adults ages 30 to 39 are the biggest target. In 2019, they represented 30.2 percent of all identity theft reports, according to the FTC. This represents a 58.6 percent increase over 2018. Adults ages 40 to 49 comprise the second-largest group, at 21.8 percent. Why are these groups frequently targeted? These demographics often have the most credit cards and make frequent financial transactions, which means they’re prime candidates for identity thieves.
Unfortunately, identity theft doesn’t stop with adults. As mentioned, identity theft affects all age groups. In addition to adults, children can be victimized.
Child Identity Theft
Although identity theft is less common among children, it is growing at an alarming rate and an estimated 1 million children had their identity stolen in 2017 alone. When it happens, it can be difficult to discover. Children make good targets since they don’t have any type of credit history. Also, it’s likely that no one is monitoring their credit reports. After all, there aren’t too many tykes running around with a Visa in the back pocket of their OshKosh B’gosh rompers. This lack of credit history allows the thief to start with a clean slate.
Does Risk Change by Location?
Does location matter? In 2019, the largest number of identity thefts occurred in Michigan, Florida and California. But it really doesn’t matter where you live. You can take steps to prevent yourself from becoming one of the 651,000 targeted in 2020.
Identity Theft vs. Fraud
When your identity is stolen, you may also be a victim of fraud. They aren’t exactly the same. So what’s the difference? Fraud occurs when the thief uses your credit card to make purchases or steal money from your accounts. Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information to open accounts or obtain other benefits with your data. For example, a thief can use your work history to apply for a job or use your health insurance information to obtain prescription drugs.
If your credit card is used without your authorization, your liability is limited. But, if someone steals your identity, the offense may go undetected for quite some time. Once you do discover what’s happened, you may spend years trying to repair the damage. You may need to involve financial institutions, lawyers, your employer and others.
Which Activities Make You Most Vulnerable?
Four activities make you more likely to become a victim of identity theft are:
1. Using Easy Passwords
You may love to reuse your favorite passwords because they’re easy to recall, but doing so also makes you an easy target. Accept the random password generator suggestions to create strong passwords, or follow these tips to create a strong password you won’t forget.
2. Infrequent Review of Bank Statements
Check your bank statements and transactions every few days. Don’t wait for the monthly statement to appear in your mailbox. If your financial institution supports it, sign up for alerts on your account when a transaction exceeds a predetermined amount, say $25. That way, you can stay on top of any suspicious activity, which will allow you to mitigate the damage of a thief getting their hands on your account.
3. Failure to Monitor Your Credit Report
Sign up for a free credit report from Credit Karma. Keep an eye on your score and monitor any account opening and closing activity to ensure everything is genuine.
4. Failure to Monitor Health Insurance Claims and Bills
Review your health insurance claims and medical bills regularly. Yes, they can be hard to read, but you should be able to easily recognize the following:
- Treatments in unfamiliar locations
- Medication you haven’t been prescribed
- Names of doctors you never visited
Be vigilant: Take the steps you need to protect your identity.
Children can have a legitimate credit history if you add your child as an authorized user on a credit card. They can also have a credit report if their identity or Social Security Number has been compromised. It’s relatively easy to protect your children from credit fraud. Simply call each of the credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, and complete the paperwork required to freeze their credit. Once you’ve done that, no one will be able to open an account using their Social Security number.
However, even after you freeze your child’s credit, you must still protect your child’s Social Security number as it can be used for insurance purposes and other non-credit uses.
Try Spokeo’s New Identity Protection Service
If protecting yourself and your loved ones is important, you can do even more. Spokeo’s new identity protection service, Spokeo Protect, is included with most Spokeo memberships and is also available via direct subscription. When you sign up, you’ll decide which elements of your personal (social security number, passport number, etc) and financial (credit card, bank account, etc) information you’d like to monitor. Real-time email alerts will inform you if any of this information has appeared on the dark web — which is a sure sign your identity has been compromised.
Why take chances? Once the damage is done, it may take years to undo. Spokeo Protect can help you stay ahead of any potential identification fraud.