IdentityIt was only a few years ago that identity theft happened when someone lost a purse or wallet, or their mail was stolen. With the recent explosion of database hacking, security precautions have become one of our top priorities. To have a measure of peace of mind, we now spend nearly $300 per year on a subscription service that will notify us of unauthorized activity on our credit reports or checking accounts.

“Sadly, it is not a matter of if you are going to be a victim of identity theft – it’s a matter of when.”

Remember Target Stores – 110 million records were hacked and stolen in 2014. Anthem Health – almost 80 million records, Home Depot nearly 50 million and Chase Bank about 83 million accounts! These are just a few businesses Identity Theftthat sustained major credit card and identity theft hacking during 2014 – totaling hundreds of millions of account combined! Yes, you figured it out – identity theft affects everyone.

If hackers can break into the computers of high profile organizations, including federal agencies, they can break into smaller businesses’ databases as well. It should be no secret to you that data breaches today are the biggest threat to identity security.

How serious is the threat of identity theft?

Everyone needs to realize they are vulnerable, and they can never fully prevent identity theft. No agency can guarantee it will absolutely protect a person’s credit. The only thing that can be done is to be proactive and to mitigate the damage.

How can individuals be proactive in protecting their identity?
Anything that contains a Social Security number gives a thief carte blanche to impersonate someone in order to obtain new credit and make additional fraudulent transactions. People should always use care when sharing information, especially on social media sites. Identity thieves are good at putting puzzles together. If someone’s birthday is on Facebook, it gives a thief another piece to be able to steal that person’s identity since birthdates are a common security question.

Unsafe places to use a debit card are: Gas stations, ATMs, online purchases, and even places like restaurants where your credit card is taken by the wait staff.

Every lawful U.S. citizen is allowed to receive one free credit report each year from each of the three credit reporting bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and Trans Union. All three must be checked because the information can be radically different between the bureaus.

What should a business do to prevent identity theft? The way a company protects its database is the most critical. There are state and federal regulations on how the information has to be protected, but there are a lot of businesses that don’t take the threat seriously. Companies should also consider developing a strict vendor management program for when sensitive information is shared with a vendor. That vendor must realize they have an obligation to know how their customer’s data is being protected from identity theft.

Identity thieves know no bounds when it comes to committing their crime. They have been known to hijack driver’s licenses and passports, steal mail, tamper with investment accounts, secure utility services, get student loans, and file for bankruptcy in other people’s names.