Identity theft on the rise; social media blamed in part for spike
In 2011 nearly 12 million Americans were victims of identity theft, representing an increase of 13 percent over 2010, according to a study by Javelin Strategy and Research. Javelin conducts primary research on consumer behavior and financial trends. The study also found that unsafe use of social media is one cause of the spike, including posting birth dates, pet names and other seemingly “innocent” information online that can be used by identity thieves.
South Carolina has not been immune to the national trend. Identity theft cases in the state increased 15 percent in 2011 over 2010, moving South Carolina from 29th to 20th for the number of per capita complaints.
Often identity theft and fraud can be prevented by following simple steps to safeguard personal information. Wendy Murdock, a MasterCard executive who works on fraud prevention efforts, discussed how consumers can protect themselves: “Using a credit, debit or prepaid card minimizes the impact of fraud because most offer zero liability protection, meaning you won’t be held liable for fraudulent purchases. It’s also safer than carrying cash. But consumers still must be careful to protect themselves against theft.”
Murdock outlined specific ways to protect personal information. “There are relatively simple things people can do to reduce their risk,” she said, “including keeping information such as your birth date and address confidential – so that thieves can’t open accounts using your information. Also, use a firewall and virus software on home computers; place online purchases through secure, reputable websites only; avoid sending your card number in an email; and don’t make online purchases while using an unsecure wireless network.”
MasterCard recently launched a public education campaign called Master Your Card - South Carolina, which offers fraud prevention tips and other resources at www.masteryourcardsc.org. Master Your Card is partnering with South Carolina State Treasurer Curtis Loftis, Jr. and AARP to offer events across the state on fraud prevention and effective use of electronic payments, including one at the College of Charleston (Wells Fargo Auditorium) on Tuesday, Sept. 18 at 12:30 p.m.
Six tips for preventing fraud
• Don’t publish “identifying” personal information online, such as your complete date of birth, mailing address and the high school you attended
• Turn off computers when not in use to reduce risks of hacking and intrusion – and always use a firewall and virus software
• Change passwords and PINs regularly
• Make sure websites for online purchases have a security icon displayed in the corner – a “closed lock” or “unbroken key”
• Cover the keypad when you enter your PIN
• Don’t throw away ATM and card purchase receipts in a public place