In a connected world, risk of identity theft rises

In a recent study of American fears, more than 37 percent of those surveyed said they were afraid or very afraid of identity theft. That may seem like a lot of people, but 100 percent of Americans should understand the threat. Identity theft is about more than scams and phishing emails. Because of the connected lifestyles we have, it’s now woven into our everyday lives.

No one is immune to the crime, but some states rank higher for formal identity theft complaints than others. According to a recent Federal Trade Commission report, Nevada ranked ninth for identity theft complaints. Almost 4,000 Nevada residents reported identity theft in 2016. The top five types were credit card fraud (42 percent), employment or tax-related fraud (32 percent), bank fraud (13 percent), phone or utilities fraud (9 percent) and government documents or benefits fraud (4 percent).

Several factors can lead to higher fraud statistics among certain populations. For example, Florida is home to a large population of retirees, who often are targets of medical identity theft, bill collection scams and tax identity theft. States that have a high percentage of reported data breaches, such as Nevada, are more susceptible to having residents’ personal information used maliciously.

One rising form of fraud is synthetic identity theft, in which thieves use a combination of real and fake information to create a new identity. They use this identity to obtain credit cards, open bank accounts and even gain access to a driver’s license and passport.

Criminals engaging in synthetic identity theft often use Social Security numbers of those who don’t use credit — such as children — because they’re able to fly under the radar before anyone figures out what happened. But according to the lead data scientist for the Verizon Breach Report, 60 to 80 percent of Social Security numbers have been stolen by hackers.

If you or someone you love has experienced identity theft, you know what a stressful and potentially costly experience it can be. Victims have reported emotional distress and financial losses, and say they spent hundreds of hours to restore their identity.

But there are ways to protect yourself. Be sure to check your credit reports frequently for suspicious activity, update your passwords and be mindful to not use the same credentials for multiple accounts. Identity thieves are experts at piecing together your personal information and then acting on any number of scams, such as financial fraud, medical identity theft, stealing a child’s Social Security number and applying for loans.

My No. 1 recommendation is to be vigilant and get the help you need to ensure you have peace of mind. Whether you are going to an athletic event, shopping at the mall or in the airport, you need to be aware both online and offline of your activities and how your personal information is being used.

Steven Bearak is CEO of IdentityForce.