Identity theft is a growing threat throughout the world. Thieves continue to create more advanced, sophisticated and unpredictable methods to steal valuable personal information. In 2012 alone, 16.6 million Americans were victims of identity theft. The risk is real, and everyone is a target.
Identity theft occurs when a thief gains unauthorized access to important personal documents and information, such as your Social Security or credit card numbers, and illegally uses these numbers to make purchases, obtain credit or loans, or benefit in other ways. Certain groups are targeted more often than others. If you fall into one of the following four groups, take precautions to protect your identity.
1. People Aged 18 to 24
Young adults ages 18 to 24 are one of the groups most susceptible to identity theft. In fact, in 2006, 29 percent of identity thefts reports came from young adults. Young people who use credit cards for the first time are at increased risk because they may not understand how to protect their information adequately.
Many people in this group swipe debit and credit cards at a higher rate than older people and tend to post lots of personal information on social media, giving thieves another access point. Young people also use their smartphones to shop online, deposit checks and complete other financial transactions. Using a smartphone in public Wi-Fi hotspots can increase your vulnerability to hacking attacks.
2. Those Making over $75,000
Fraudsters target people with high income levels. In fact, 10 percent of this group falls victim to some form of identity theft each year. Criminals specifically target people with high incomes because a successful identify theft attempt is likely to be much more lucrative. Many people in this income bracket regularly use credit cards, which can be compromised by a data breach, or theft of the card or account statement. Wealthy people may have numerous accounts in a variety of places, which gives hackers and thieves more opportunities to illegally obtain sensitive information.
3. People with Weak Passwords
Passwords are designed to protect important identification and financial information online. Weak passwords, like "password" and "123456789," can be cracked easily and are the root cause of many identity theft cases. If a password consists of six or less lowercase letters, it will take a computer roughly 10 minutes to crack it. Remember: the more complicated the password is, the less likely it is to be cracked. Use eight or more characters and include a mix of numbers, special characters and upper and lower case letters when creating passwords. Use random words, and don't use your birthday, the name of a pet or child, or other personal information as a part of the password.
4. Young Children
Child identity theft is increasing. Some reports note that it happens to roughly 150,000 kids per year. Child identity theft is possible because children have Social Security numbers for tax purposes, as parents usually list them as dependents on tax returns. If a fraudster obtains this number, he or she can apply for loans and open new lines of credit in the child's name. Because many parents don't regularly review their child's credit report to ensure he or she doesn't have a credit history, it's less likely that the fraudulent activity will be detected immediately. Thieves can use your child's identity for years without worrying about being caught.
If you are in any of these groups or are generally worried about identity theft, you should be sure to monitor your credit card and bank statements, as well as your credit report for unusual activity. You can also sign up for an identity theft protection service, which can monitor all of that and more for you. Here is a good comparison of two of the top identity theft protection services.