Almost half of American consumers (48%) think it is at least somewhat likely they will lose money to identity theft in the coming year, according to data from a Harris Poll conducted on behalf of the AICPA. The survey polled 1,006 U.S adults by phone in the autumn of 2017.
Their instincts may be correct: 143 million U.S. consumers were victims of cybercrime in 2017, with losses hitting $19.4 billion.
Still, only three in five adults responding to the AICPA survey (61%) said they had ever looked at their credit report. Monitoring your credit is an important step in protecting your finances, according to the AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission. Consumers can request one free report per year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies and review them for unusual activity.
Consumers should also check credit reports associated with their children’s names, even if their children are years away from applying for credit, said Neal Stern, CPA, member of the AICPA Financial Literacy Commission.
“Identity theft victims can be any age, and data thieves know that the symptoms of fraud may go undetected for months or even years when the victim is a child, leaving plenty of opportunity before preventive steps are taken,” Stern said.
Eighty-one percent of consumers reported making changes to their behavior to ward off potential scammers, including tactics such as:
- Increasing how often they monitor their accounts and statements for unusual activity (56%).
- Increasingly using cash or checks instead of credit or debit accounts (43%).
- Shopping at locally owned businesses rather than national chains in hopes of avoiding leaks of their financial information or other theft (40%).
- Limiting their online footprint by going to fewer websites or quitting social media (26%).
If you do notice possibly fraudulent activity with your credit card or bank account, it’s important to act quickly, Stern said.
“Federal law protects you from losses over $50 arising from unauthorized use of your credit card, but be sure to notify your credit card issuer immediately if your card is lost or stolen to limit disputed charges that will have to be resolved,” Stern said. “Timely reporting is even more critical for debit cards, since your maximum loss can escalate to $500 if you wait more than two days to notify the bank.”
If you wait more than 60 days to report a loss, he added, “you may be responsible for all your losses.”
The committee also recommends using only secure wireless internet networks. Thieves may target unsecure networks to skim personal information, such as passwords or credit card numbers, transmitted over public, unsecure networks such as those found at coffee shops and airports.
View more advice from the AICPA Financial Literacy Commission on what to do if you’ve been the victim of identity theft.
— Samiha Khanna is a freelance writer based in Durham, N.C. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, email editorial director Ken Tysiac.