Are you really protecting yourself?

Hidden Identity Theft Risks

by Paige Estigarribia


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Identity theft is an all-too-common problem. It's the same basic premise: your personal information (credit card, social security card, driver's license, or other identifying information) is stolen from you, many times without you knowing it ever happened. But the schemes and devices used to capture personal information are becoming more and more advanced, and thieves are harder to track down. In fact, according to a recent new survey from Experian's ProtectMyID, consumers are very much aware of identity theft as a threat. But, most consumers still aren't taking some basic precautions to protect themselves.

From Experian ProtectMyID's study, here's a breakdown of some hidden pitfalls still lurking as potential identity theft disasters:

1. Your phone or tablet

You rely on it to make your life easier. Your phone or tablet often holds your banking information, addresses, birthdays, and sometimes even stored credit card information. You carry it everywhere. But what happens if you accidentally leave it at the baseball stadium? Or if it's stolen from the grocery cart? Do you have those devices password protected? According to Experian ProtectMyID's study, 43% of smartphone users don't use a password to unlock their phones. Yes, you have to take a few extra seconds when you pick up your phone to enter your password, but that might be worth hours of calling credit card companies, state agencies, and banks if your phone or tablet is ever misplaced or stolen.

2. Your Facebook account (and other social network accounts)

Your Facebook friends all sent birthday wishes this past year, but did you know that your birthday, email address, and education could all also be used by identity thieves to steal your information? According to Experian ProtectMyID's study, only 36% of social network users regularly manage account privacy settings. Be sure to regularly check your social network privacy settings (they change frequently), and carefully consider the information you share through your accounts. Remember to keep an eye on what you share with the public, versus what you are sharing with friends. If it identifies you, or if your profile or shared information could answer one of those identifying "Mother's Maiden Name" type questions, consider leaving it off your profile.

3. Your wallet and personal belongings

Sure, we don't purposefully leave our wallets and purses out in places where they might get stolen. But the last time you were out to dinner, how many purses did you see hanging on the backs of chairs or under tables? According to Experian ProtectMyID's study, 23% of adults leave their purses on the back of chairs or under tables while at restaurants. These handbags out of sight are prime targets for sneaky thieves. Plus, in Experian ProtectMyID's survey, 29% of folks said they carried their Social Security card around with them in their wallet. Carefully consider whether you really need your card with you at all times. Chances are you may need it less than you think, and it's safer in your safe deposit box.

4. And speaking of Social Security numbers...

Always be mindful of where you are jotting down (or typing in) your Social Security number. According to Experian ProtectMyID's study, 46% of adults write Social Security numbers on job applications, medical forms, and the like. Think about whether your number is really needed, and if not, consider leaving it off your application or paperwork.

As you are considering your identity theft vulnerability, keep these tips in mind. Plus, credit reporting agencies like Experian have valuable tips and tools for keeping watch on potential identity theft problems.


Paige Estigarribia is a writer for The Dollar Stretcher who enjoys writing about food, frugal living, and money-saving tips. Visit Paige on Google+.

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