Poised for Trouble
New data confirms that Colorado remains a hotspot in the national fraud epidemic, warns the National Consumers League. According to the Federal Trade Commission’s recently-released 2014 Consumer Sentinel Data Book, Colorado was in the top 20 states for per-capita identity theft complaints to the FTC in 2014, ranking in at number 13.
Benefits, credit card and utilities fraud account for most of the 4,579 identity theft complaints received, with sixty-five percent of Colorado residents who filed complaints reporting a loss. The average amount reported paid: $2,018. Surprisingly, the Colorado Springs metropolitan area ranked third in the nation in per-capita fraud complaints to the FTC, while Denver-Aurora-Lakewood ranked 20th and Pueblo 45th in this metric, respectively.
The vulnerability of Colorado consumers to fraud, and particularly identity theft, is exacerbated by the ongoing problem of data breaches. According to Javelin Strategy & Research, nearly 1 in 3 data breach victims will also experience identity fraud. As information on tens of millions of consumers affected by breaches at companies like Target, Home Depot and Anthem continue to fall in to the hands of cybercriminals, it is likely that millions more will suffer from this scam.
“Data breaches regularly expose sensitive personal information about millions of Colorado consumers on cybercrime black markets,” says John Breyault, Vice President of Public Policy Telecommunications and Fraud at the National Consumers League.
While there is no foolproof way for consumers to protect themselves from identity theft, there are steps they can take that will reduce their risk.
Tips to protect your identity
Resist clicking on suspicious links or attachments in emails, text messages or on the Web. These often contain malware that can hijack your computer and steal sensitive personal information like Social Security Numbers, usernames, passwords and dates of birth.
File your taxes early in the tax season. The FTC identified tax-related identity theft as a top source of identity theft complaints. Scammers file in someone else’s name early in tax season and collect fraudulent returns before the legitimate taxpayer has filed his/her return.
Don’t give out your SSN unnecessarily (only for tax reasons, credit or verified employment.) Before providing personal identifiers, know how it will be used and if it will be shared.
Use a crosscut shredder to dispose of documents with personal information. Also, use a specialized gel pen when writing out checks.
Place outgoing mail in collection boxes or the U.S. Post Office.
Know your billing cycles and contact creditors when bills fail to show up. Review bank and credit card statements carefully.
Passwords protect your financial accounts. A strong password should be more than eight characters in length, and contain both capital letters and at least one numeric or other non-alphabetical character. Use of non-dictionary words is also recommended. Additionally, don’t use the same password across multiple websites. Take advantage of stronger security technology, like multi-factor authentication, particularly on sensitive accounts like email addresses.
Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you initiated the contact.
Use firewall software to protect computer information. Keep virus and spyware software programs updated.
Reduce the number of preapproved credit card offers you receive by calling 888-5OPT-OUT
Lastly, review your credit reports regularly and report any suspicious activity promptly. Consumers can obtain a copy of their credit reports from all three credit reporting bureaus for free at www.annualcreditreport.com.