Identity theft: Tips, statistics and remedies for victims

Identity theft can cause emotional and financial turmoil. These tips can help.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reports that 16.6 million people were the victims of identity theft in 2012 alone. The occurrence of identity theft is reviewed by the National Crime Victimization Survey. The agency looks for three different types of incidents: the unauthorized use or attempted use of an existing account, unauthorized use of personal information to start a new account and the misuse of personal information for a fraudulent purpose.

According to a recent report by ABC News, a new hybrid of identity theft is gaining in popularity: synthetic identity theft. Synthetic identity fraud is described as the use of one true piece of identity, like a social security number, mixed with false information like a fake name or date of birth. According to the report, synthetic identity theft is estimated to cost over $2 billion annually and may compose 85 percent of all identity theft cases in the United States.

More on identity theft: How do I recognize if I am a victim?

It is wise to carefully review bills and various online accounts on a regular basis. Watch for any unfamiliar purchases, charges or withdrawals from accounts. Some common signs of identity theft include:

  • Mail. A change in mail should be noted. This can include receiving information for credit cards you did not sign up for or a failure to receive information from accounts as usual.
  • Offers. Receiving a lower than expected offer when attempting to financing a car or home or being denied a credit card when you believe there should not be an issue are also red flags.
  • Calls. Sudden calls from debt collectors or other businesses requesting payment on debts that you cannot explain are also a sign that you may be the victim of identity theft.

These are just a few of the more common examples.

More on identity theft: How do I protect myself?

Proactive steps can reduce the risk of becoming a target. These steps include:

  • Garbage. Dispose of sensitive documents properly. If documents contain personal information, shred them. This includes applications for employment, offers for credit cards, bank account statements, payroll stubs and medical records.
  • Security. Take care of personal belongings, like driver's licenses and social security cards. In many situations, it is not necessary to carry a social security card. It may be wise to leave this form of identification in a safe and secure location. It is also a good idea to update passwords frequently and to make sure the chosen code is not one that is easily cracked. Including numbers or symbols can help increase a password's effectiveness.
  • Mail. It is also wise to take care when mailing sensitive documents. This could include an application for employment, insurance documents or medical records. Use secure post office locations as opposed to unsecured collection sites.

These steps are just a few measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of becoming a victim.

More on identity theft: What do I do if I am a victim?

Unfortunately, even those who take steps to protect themselves can become victims of identity theft. Victims are wise to seek the counsel of an experienced identity theft attorney. This legal professional can handle the steps needed to recover your identity, deal with creditors and help ensure your legal rights and remedies are protected.