It’s the time of the year that throngs of people converge on area malls and shopping centers and millions more go on-line and use their credit cards and debit cards to make sure that friends and family members get the presents and gifts they deserve. This is a most appropriate time to highlight the significant dangers with passwords and credit or debit card numbers and PIN numbers.
This year 15 million Americans will lose 50 billion dollars to identity theft. That number, translated into real work perspective is that 7% of all American adults will lose and average of $3,500.00 each. This number, despite all the technology and ingenuity we can muster, continues to grow. Not only do the numbers grow but the thieves are growing more organized and expanding the scope of their illegal activity. Only recently the Secret Service, the FBI and the FDLE broke up a huge identity theft ring ran out of Southern Hillsborough County that involved the filing of Federal Income tax Returns using stolen information and reaping millions of dollars in stolen tax refunds. The crime is so unique and brazen; it’s just a sign of how lucrative a ‘business’ it is and how unprepared we are as consumers to deal with such a loss.
There are commercial organizations which are essentially insurers against identity theft who pay claims when a loss is incurred and the price for this protection seems reasonable given how prevalent this has become. Monetary loss is only one of the threats. Once your private information is in the hands of such a villain, they can create havoc with your credit standing, your credit report, they can commit crimes in your name and incur untold liabilities that will take years to untangle.
Everyone has a password and most of them are good. The newest craze is for a stranger to call one of your creditors and talk the Customer Service Representative into giving them the information you try to protect. Clearly passwords are not the answer. The real solution to this is to consider one of the private commercial organizations who insure against this. The second and more effective method is to guard your passwords and more than anything, be vigilant. Look at each credit card statement monthly for unauthorized activity, read and reconcile your bank statement each month, look at your consumer credit report once each quarter for strange activity, change your passwords on a regular basis and just plain common sense; pay attention.
So while you shop, enjoy the season, look for all the bargains you can stomach but think about your private information and make it your business to be careful and not make a good holiday season for someone out to take advantage of your naïve handling of passwords, billing information and PIN numbers.
Good Shopping and Happy Holidays!