Effects of credit card and ID theft are widespread and longlasting

We hear it all the time: a big corporation suffers yet another data breach, putting thousands of consumers’ personal information at risk. Or it could be your neighbors, friends – maybe even yourself – who have had to change all their credit card numbers because a scammer managed to steal their identities. The truth is that credit card and ID theft has become too common these days and even if you’ve managed to escape from being a victim, chances are good you’ll become one in the future.

Consider this: according to an article written by Mashable.com, one in every 10 American consumers has been a victim of identity theft. The average amount taken from each victim amounts to about $5,000. Amazingly, about 15 percent of victims don’t learn of their identities being stolen for four or more years.

Fortunately some cases of identity theft are mild when it comes to financial consequences. According to CreditSesame.com, if someone steals your credit card number, you are not liable for any losses from fraudulent use. If someone steals your actual card, your liability is generally limited to $50. Most credit card issuers offer zero liability protections on fraudulent charges.

If your debit card number is stolen, your losses could be much greater. Unless you notice and report the theft within two days, you could permanently lose the first $500 stolen from your account. After 60 days, you may be liable for the entire amount. Familiarize yourself with your bank’s policies so there are no surprises.

When your personal information is stolen, a world of criminal possibilities open up. If you are one of those 1.1 million unlucky people whose personal information is used to fraudulently open a new account, massive charges can add up before you ever even become aware of the theft.

Further, according to the Mashable article, it takes about 330 hours to repair the damage done by identity theft.

So if you’re keeping track, that means identity theft victims lose not only money but time. But it gets worse. Thieves can leave a trail of poor financial behavior under a victim’s name, meaning your good credit could easily turn bad. According to DailyFinance.com, victims whose personal information was misused are more likely to experience financial problems such as dealing with debt collectors. They also have to repeatedly correct credit reports. As you can probably guess, a bad credit score means trouble getting favorable loan rates, which could hinder victims from buying a car or a home.

It’s safe to say we’d all like to avoid that.

Fortunately, there are things you can do to protect yourself. Some may seem obvious, but it’s worth the reminder:

• When your SSN is requested from a reputable source, ask if you can provide alternate information.

• Install anti-virus software on your computer and update it regularly.

• Turn off your phone’s Bluetooth and Wi-Fi when not in use.

• Monitor bank and credit card accounts at least weekly.

• Shred any sensitive paper documents. Better Business Bureau provides free shredding events throughout the year. You can find the dates and location online at bbb.org.

We’ve also partnered with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and encourage you to check out their Stop.Think.Connect. toolkit, available at http://www.dhs.gov/stopthinkconnect-toolkit.

Michelle Tabler is the Alaska Regional Manager of Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington.

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