Identity theft has, unfortunately, become part of everyday business language and continues to top the Federal Trade Commission’s national ranking of consumer complaints.
Identity theft intrusions are perpetrated by thieves who get to the mailbox before you, “dumpster divers” sifting through discarded paperwork, or hackers who invade your computer system.
What these robbers do with stolen personal information causes major headaches. American consumers reported losing over $1.6 billion to fraud overall in 2013, according to the FTC’s 2014 annual report on consumer complaints.
In a 2012 Bureau of Justice Statistics report,
- The majority of identity theft incidents (85 percent) involved the fraudulent use of existing account information, such as credit card or bank account information.
- About 14 percent of identity theft victims experienced out-of-pocket losses of $1 or more. Of these victims, about half suffered losses of less than $100.
- Over half of identity theft victims who were able to resolve any associated problems did so in a day or less; among victims who had personal information used for fraudulent purposes, 29% spent a month or more resolving problems.
- Victims who had personal information used to open a new account or for other fraudulent purposes were more likely than victims of existing account fraud to experience financial, credit, and relationship problems and severe emotional distress.
First Step Is Simple
Protecting your farm or ranch business starts by taking care of the trash, according to Jill Patton, an AgDirect territory manager. AgDirect is an equipment financing program offered by participating Farm Credit System association partners of AgDirect, LLP.
“These days, it is almost impossible to be in business and not collect or hold personally identifying information – names and addresses, Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, or other account numbers – about your employees and business partners,” Patton notes. “If this information falls into the wrong hands, it could put these individuals at risk for identity theft. “
Patton offers these tips to decrease your risk of identity theft:
- Don’t give out your SSN unnecessarily (only for tax reasons, credit or verified employment.) Before providing personal identifiers, know how it will be used and if it will be shared.
- Use a cross-cut shredder to dispose of documents with personal information. Also, use a specialized gel pen when writing out checks.
- Place outgoing mail in collection boxes or the U.S. Post Office.
- Know your billing cycles and contact creditors when bills fail to show up. Review bank and credit card statements carefully.
- Password protect your financial accounts. A strong password should be more than eight characters in length, and contain both capital letters and at least one numeric or other non-alphabetical character. Use of non-dictionary words is also recommended.
- Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you initiated the contact.
- Use firewall software to protect computer information. Keep virus and spyware software programs updated.
- Reduce the number of preapproved credit card offers you receive: 888-5OPT-OUT.
Order your free annual credit reports on-line at: www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling (877) 322-8228.