Home > Identity Theft and Scams > Identity Theft Is Dead! Long Live Identity Theft!

Comments 0 Comments
Advertiser Disclosure


Incidents of identity theft held fairly steady last year, according to a new report by Javelin Strategy and Research. It would seem with time-honored methods of ripping people off going the way of Bonnie and Clyde, fraudsters — ever sophisticated, creative and persistent — scrambled to find new ways to increase revenues in 2015. Of course, they did. They always do.

If I could drive one point home after reading the latest Javelin report, “2016 Identity Theft: Fraud Hits an Inflection Point,” published this week, it would be that identity theft continues to be a blight on the lives of millions of Americans.

Now say it with me: “It’s just a matter of time.”

The cardinal rule of the identity theft quagmire is simply that, sooner or later, every last one of us will get got. No exceptions.

Regardless of statistics suggesting a plateau in the number of identity-related crimes, there is still nowhere to run or hide from the scammers, phishers and identity thieves who view us as their day job. Think of the war on identity theft (or the unending assaults upon us by identity thieves) as being a never-ending round of whack-a-mole. Contain it here; it pops up over there. According to the report, “the total number of victims remained steady at 13.1 million, and the total fraud amount fell slightly to $15 billion. However, that stability masks major changes in fraud in the U.S.”

The total number of victims last year was at its second highest level in the last six years. Since we’re in the middle of an identity theft pandemic, second place should still be worrisome. While identity theft is a fact of life—I would argue the third certainty right up there with death and taxes—it is imperative that none of us be lulled into a false sense of security in what might be mistaken for a “new normal.” Only in movies like the Resident Evil series does mayhem and villainy predicate all aspects of reality. We’re still in the here and now of a vicious crime trend, and it’s nothing we can’t handle.

What Me Worry?

One of the reasons it is imperative to stay on the alert is the way identity theft is evolving. The latest statistics reveal new twists in the evolution of this now-entrenched crime wave. While on the surface, there’s the good (well, not really that good) news — there were roughly as many victims in 2015 as the year before, and they stole a tad less — there is way more to the story. The area of concern is a 113 percent increase in new account fraud and a big jump in card-not-present transaction fraud.

With the introduction of EMV, or chip and PIN (or — in America — chip and signature) technology, it has become harder for fraudsters to counterfeit cards. The criminal response to this seems to be a shift to the creation of new accounts using Social Security numbers and other personal information readily available online — data that sometimes comes via the social media posts of millions of Americans who over-share information that fraudsters can use to create a new account, but more often comes via black market websites that sell information lost in data breaches.

Another Important Finding

The Javelin study also found that distrust of financial institutions, specifically a failure to take advantage of services like transaction monitoring, email alerts, credit freezes and black-market monitoring creates new challenges. As a result, information is being “used for 75 percent longer by fraudsters and incurring a 185 percent greater mean consumer expense than those victims that have high trust in their financial institutions.”

These two changes need to be addressed, specifically in the way you manage your identity portfolio — keeping it safe from evil-doers.

In my book Swiped: How to Protect Yourself in a World Full of Scammers, Phishers, and Identity Thieves, I provide a practical approach to the reality of identity theft. It’s called the Three Ms, which are: 1.) Minimize your risk of exposure, 2.) Monitor your accounts and 3.) Manage the damage.

The goal (indeed the imperative) is to reduce your attackable surface and make yourself a harder target. When the inevitable happens, you need to know you have a problem as quickly as possible and what to do or to whom to go to in order to put yourself back together again. Keeping an eye on your credit reports and scores are two ways to monitor your identity. You can check your credit reports for signs of identity theft (i.e. new accounts you didn’t open) for free once a year on AnnualCreditReport.com. You can track your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com.

That said, when it comes to new account fraud, you can’t simply rely on an annual free credit report and self-help. You should really seek help from a professional — oftentimes it is available for free as a perk of your relationship with a financial services institution or your insurance company.

At the very minimum, if you know your information has been involved in a data breach, regardless of the solution presented by the breached organization (for which you should sign up because it’s free and more monitoring is better than no monitoring) it’s probably a good idea you freeze your credit and become far more sensitive to notices you receive, calls you field or e-mails that ask you to click on a link or provide any information.

Penny-wise and pound foolish doesn’t even begin to describe how you will feel if you trust fate over institutions, because the day will come when a debt collector calls looking for money you never spent, and all the Monday morning quarterbacking in the world won’t settle those accounts.

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

More on Credit Cards:

Image: iStock

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Credit.com receives compensation for the financial products and services advertised on this site if our users apply for and sign up for any of them.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team