Child identity theft is also a significant problem, which many people don't realize. 2.5 percent of U.S. households with children under age 18 have at least one child whose personal information has been compromised by identity criminals.
At this time of year, Equifax is focused on educating consumers about tax identity theft, a growing problem. In the federal fiscal year 2012, the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit received 448,809 cases, up nearly 80 percent over the previous year.
Ten tips for preventing identity theft include:
- Keep birth certificates, Social Security cards and other personal documents in a lockbox in your home. Make sure they are put away when someone is working in your home or even if you have a roommate.
- When disposing of documents, use a diagonal shredder, which makes documents harder to piece together than a traditional shredder does.
- Don't leave outgoing bills, government forms or tax forms in a mailbox. Take them directly to the post office. Have your mail held by the post office while on vacation.
- Don't put your driver's license number on your personal checks. Consider writing just your first initial and last name instead of your full name.
- Don't toss credit card receipts in public places.
- Install anti-virus software, anti-malware software and a firewall on your computer and keep them up to date. A tech-savvy identity thief can use a virus to get personal information from your computer without you even knowing.
- Use unique passwords that are different for each website.
- Don't put your birthdate or other sensitive information on your social media accounts, even just the month and day. A thief can figure out the year you were born by looking at your posts.
- You're entitled to one free credit report each year, which you can obtain at www.annualcreditreport.com. Review your report for unfamiliar lines of credit, an account you didn't open, errors in your personal information or Social Security number.