SALT LAKE CITY — With the summer vacation season approaching, protecting personal information from identity theft becomes important to many travelers.
Your wallet is like "a miniature directory of your identity," explained Ken Chaplin, senior vice president of marketing for California-based ProtectMyID, a subsidiary of credit monitoring service Experian.
"Think about it: Your driver's license, credit card, debit card, medical insurance card and other numbers are all stored together," Chaplin said. "However, in the event of a lost wallet or stolen wallet, having all of this information in one place greatly increases your risk of identity theft."
A recent statewide survey showed that Utahns may be putting themselves at risk for identity theft, with more than half of residents in the state reporting that they have been either victims or know someone affected by the crime.
The online survey conducted for ProtectMyID indicated that Utahns remain potentially at risk, with 52 percent indicating that they have been a victim of identity theft or know someone who has been a victim.
Results of the survey also showed that despite the pervasiveness of identity theft, many people still fail to take even simple steps to protect themselves, with 56 percent reporting that they do not check credit reports regularly to identify fraudulent activity.
The statewide study surveyed 1,055 consumers about their knowledge and behaviors regarding identity theft. The survey revealed that Utah residents take some steps to keep their personal information safe, but further efforts could be made, especially regarding technology and online activities, Chaplin said.
- Change passwords on a regular basis.
- Avoid sharing personally identifying information, such as your birthday, on social networks.
- Protect your personal information.
- Shred financial documents before disposing of them.
- Review credit reports regularly, and watch for signs of fraud.
Just half of those surveyed said they use passwords to protect their smartphones or tablets, and 17 percent admitted they let strangers join their social media circles.
"Many people don't think about identity theft until it happens, and this survey shows that Utahns could take more steps to protect their identities," Chaplin said. "Simple things, such as checking your credit report for signs of fraud or changing passwords regularly, can go a long way in the fight against identity theft."
Among the good habits Utahns exhibit, according to the survey, include 83 percent of respondents saying they avoid sharing their Social Security numbers unless required by law; 77 percent said they check account statements as soon as they receive them; and 76 percent said they keep antivirus and anti-malware programs up to date on all of their computers.
However, among the poor habits respondents admitted, 50 percent said they do not use different passwords for each of their online accounts; 48 percent do not shred canceled checks; and 58 percent have failed to review their credit reports for signs of fraud in the past six months.
The survey also showed a surprising lack of awareness of medical identity theft, with 62 percent admitting they had never heard of it. For those familiar with medical ID theft, 7 percent said they were victims of the crime or knew a family member who was. Of those familiar with medical identity theft, 31 percent were not aware that it could affect their credit score.
Chaplin warned travelers to take steps to help themselves in case they lose their wallet or purse while away from home.
Keep a record of all information from the front and back of credit, debit, driver's license, insurance and other important cards carried in your wallet, he said. Carry only what you need on a daily basis in your wallet, and protect your Social Security number.
"As soon as you're certain that your wallet or important cards are missing, call the issuers of your credit, debit, medical and driver's license cards," Chaplin said.
He also said to be sure to file a police report and contact the credit bureaus immediately. Additionally, watch your account statements for potential fraud, Chaplin noted.
"(Lastly), learn from the experience and be prepared to handle the same situation if it were to happen again," he said.