Being No. 1 isn't always admirable.
At least that's the case with the Federal Trade Commission's recently published Top 10 list.
For the 13th year in a row, identity theft topped the list of national consumer complaints in 2012.
Of the more than 2 million complaints reported to the organization, 18 percent were related to identity theft. Thieves most often used victims' personal information to steal their wages and tax refunds.
"One of the major problems is that people don't think it will happen to them," says Dubuque Police Lt. Scott Baxter, a crime prevention officer. "Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes. For us to turn a blind eye and have a false sense of security, this definitely isn't the time to do that."
Now more than ever, it's important to follow through and take the extra time to secure our personal information – online and offline. Baxter offers four simple steps we should be taking – but aren't always – to keep our personal information personal and minimize the likelihood of being victimized:
- Closely monitor not only your credit report but your other accounts, including utility, credit card and banking accounts. Watch for discrepancies. "I bet the majority of people don't scrutinize their statements as much as they probably should," Baxter says. "A lot of times we get overly trusting that the information on there is accurate."
- Take the extra time to secure or shred those statements and other documents containing personal or financial information. That goes for junk mail, too. Before tossing unwanted credit card offers and other mailings in the recycling bin, shred them.
- Never provide personal information unless: you're positive you know whom you're conducting business with, you initiated the contact and it's absolutely necessary. "Major businesses aren't going to ask for that type of information, as most of them already have it," Baxter says.
- When you're making financial transactions online, make sure you're on a secure and trusted network and website, and that your anti-virus software is up to date.
"A lot of us work hard to establish good credit. You can have it destroyed within seconds just because you didn't take a few simple precautions," Baxter says. "It's much easier to take the precautions upfront than it is to dig yourself out of a hole and restore your identity."
By Emily Kittle