Editorial Policy

Consumers Might be Helping ID Thieves Help Themselves

Marcia Frellick

February 29, 2012

Smartphone and social media users may be opening the doors to an increase in identity theft.
Identity thieves are gaining ground after a drop in fraud reports in 2010, according to Javelin Strategy & Research. In 2011, 7.7 million Americans — about one in 20 adults- – were hit with credit and debit card fraud. That’s 2.2 million more than in 2010.
Nearly all of this increase was due to credit card fraud, according to the survey of 5,000 U.S. adults, which was co-sponsored by identity theft risk management company Intersections Inc. Last year, 2.3 percent of all adults found unauthorized charges on their cards, compared to 1.4 percent in 2010.
“ID thieves have bounced back,” Javelin President James Van Dyke told MSNBC.
And there’s plenty of blame to go around.
Some high-profile data breaches, such as theattacks on 100 million Sony accounts last April, may have helped boost those numbers. The number of people whose information was accessed in a data breach increased by 67 percent in 2011. The survey also found that people whose information was exposed in a breach are 9.5 times as likely to be victims of ID theft.
Javelin also found that social media users — despite all the warnings — tend to be sloppy with what they share and are handing the thieves the same information banks use to authenticate transactions.
Some examples of what people are sharing in their profiles: birth date (68 percent — 45 percent share month, date and year), high school name (63 percent), phone number (18 percent) and pets’ names (12 percent).
The annual survey also looked at smartphone use. About 7 percent of all smartphone users were hit with identity fraud in 2011, a third more than non-users. Here again, the users are often helping the thieves. Javelin found 62 percent of smartphone users do not use password protection for their home screens. This means anyone who finds or takes their phones can get access to personal information.
“As more consumers turn to unconventional communication methods, such as social media and smartphones, doing so in a safe and responsible way must now become a priority,” said Steve Schwartz, executive vice president of consumer services for Intersections Inc., in a statement.
Although banks generally reimburse their customers for fraudulent charges, consumers should do what they can to prevent credit card fraud as well. A good start is taking advantage of the privacy settings on social media sites and not sharing information that could help thieves do their jobs. Password protection is a must for smartphones.
Also, monitor your bank accounts online regularly, and set up an alert system for suspicious activity to be sent to your cellphone or email. Keep an eye on your credit report as well to make sure no new accounts are being opened in your name.