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Three reasons why ID theft increased in 2011 and how you can protect yourself

identity-theft-online-scamLast year saw an increase in identity theft incidents when compared to 2010. According to a fraud report from Javelin Strategy & Research, there has been an increase of 13 percent in ID Theft for 2011, and some of the blame can be pinned on the rise of social media and smartphone use.

In 2010, roughly ten million adults were victims of ID fraud; that number is now up to 11.6 million adults in 2011. Javelin Strategy & Research’s long-running study surveyed 5,022 US consumers in October 2011 in order pinpoint the impact of fraud, as well as the prime areas of vulnerability. The fraud report found that, in 2011, the main catalysts for the rise in ID theft incidents were the rampant data breaches, negligent smartphone security and publicly displayed personal information on social media sites.

Interestingly, while the fraud incidents are higher for 2011, the costs of identity fraud haven’t increased. Compared to 2004, the consumer’s out-of-pocket costs have actually decreased by 44 percent. The report believes that this is due to the crack-down on authentication by institutions, as well as consumer awareness efforts by the government and institutions. Last spring, seeking to minimize identity theft, Obama administration put forth a new plan known as the National Strategy for Trust Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC); the administration is currently trying to convince internet companies to comply with one standardized Internet login system.

“While identity fraud incidence increased last year, it is becoming less profitable for fraudsters. Consumers, the financial services industry, law enforcement and government agencies are stopping fraud earlier and making new account fraud more difficult to perpetrate,” said Javelin Strategy & Research president, James Van Dyke.

Three ID theft catalysts

Key to the large number of fraud incidents was the increase in data breaches we saw in 2011; Sony had its infamous PSN data breech where an estimated 100 million users’ data was compromised. Javelin reports that there was a 67 percent increase in the number of Americans impacted by data breaches last year. The three most common items found to be exposed in a breech are: Credit card number, debit number and social security number. The research found that data breach victims are 9.5 more likely to have an identity fraud incident.

Javelin also found that certain social behaviors put consumers more at risk. Despite warnings that fraudsters often use social media as a resource, the research found that users were sharing a large amount of personal information on their networks; the same type of information used to authenticate identity by institutions. The study found that, of those who had public profiles, 68 percent shared their birthday information, 63 percent shared their high school, 12 percent shared their pet’s name and 18 percent even shared their phone number.

Though Javelin said there is “no proof of direct causation,” Google+, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn had the highest incidence of fraud. LinkedIn users were twice as likely to have reported being an identity theft victim.

As far as smartphone users go, the survey found that seven percent of owners were victims of ID theft. Mobile. Javelin believes that these users could benefit from updating to newest OS whenever possible, using a password on their home screen, and to avoid saving login information on their devices.

How to protect your ID

The research firm offers some tips for those of you worried about your data. On the prevention-side. Always keep your personal data private. That means keep your data secure with passwords or in a locked storage device and never pay your bills on a public WiFi hotspot. Also, obviously keep key personal information on social networking sites, like your cat’s name, or your birthday, private. On the mobile-front, be sure of the apps you download, the data shared on public WiFi and of course, watch where you leave your phone.

Prevention can only do so much, so create a system to detect fraud early. Make sure you monitor credit/debit accounts via your institution’s website and set up an alert system to be sent to your mobile or email. Try looking into some of the identity theft services which offer credit monitoring, fraud alerts, credit freezes, database scanning etc.; many can be found for free or for no cost.

Lastly, if a problem does arise, make sure you report it as quickly as possible. The sooner you act, the less you will lose and the more likely law enforcement can catch the fraudsters.