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Mistaken Identity

By the Numbers

Locking your doors and windows isn’t enough: modern criminals are more likely to lurk in the shadowy corners of cyberspace than in your backyard. Make safeguarding your data as big of a priority as securing your home.

It only takes a little work up front to protect your information from would-be identity thieves.

A lock and three credit cards on top of a keyboard

70 million

The number of people potentially affected by Target’s data breach.

Shopping bags and a person handing over a credit card

Black Friday puts many people’s budgets in the red, but Target shoppers saw scarlet for a different reason during the 2013 holiday season. Hackers broke into Target’s data bank of customer information, exposing up to 70 million customer names and credit-card numbers, which led to a spike in identity-related fraud. If you shop somewhere that experiences a security breach, take immediate action: see if the store offers free credit-monitoring services, keep a close watch on your account activity, and change your PIN.

8

The number of characters that make up a strong password.

A phone with a login screen

The ideal password should include a combination of capital and lowercase letters as well as numbers and characters. Don’t use common passwords like birthdays, a pet’s name, or any other personal information. Security-software giant Symantec recommends changing important passwords every three to four months.

$3,034

The average tax refund in 2014.

a social security card

Studies show that most Americans use their tax refund to pay off debt. Some save or invest it, and others reward themselves with a shopping spree. Whatever your choice, if identity thieves get their hands on your social security number, they can file your tax return before you do and run off with it. Never carry your social security card in your wallet, and give out the number only when it’s required—think financial transactions, employment records, and tax returns.

50%

The increase in identity-theft fraud in the United States from 2005 to 2010.

Person writing on a checkbook

While the crime is growing exponentially—with 13.1 million estimated victims in 2013—it’s been around for years. BYU finance professor Andrew Holmes had his checkbook stolen in the late ’90s. The thief began writing checks in his name for thousands of dollars, and Holmes had to deal with angry banks for months before the criminal dropped his identity and moved on. Holmes’s best advice for avoiding a similar experience? “Don’t ever give out personal information to an incoming solicitation,” he says. “If you get a call or email from what you think is your bank, look up the bank’s phone number and call them back to verify the situation.”

$2-$200

The amount criminals charge on the black market for stolen credit-card information.

Digital cards

There’s a growing underground market for credit- and debit-card numbers, with digits going for dirt cheap and complete account information and good credit scores attracting more. Information stolen from hospitals or even Twitter accounts can fetch higher prices because of their greater yield potential. Keep a tight leash on your personal information by visiting consumer.ftc.gov for an easy-to-digest explanation of your rights.

1998

The year congress made identity theft a federal offense.

The capitol building

The case that prompted the legislation involved a convicted felon who incurred $100,000 of credit-card debt, obtained loans and guns, and even called to taunt his victim. Because there was no law, he paid no restitution and could only be charged with providing a false statement to procure a firearm.

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