Dec. 22—COLUMBUS — It's no accident that Identity Theft Prevention and Awareness Month is December, a time of year when people are busy with shopping, cramming in personal commitments and sharing life moments on their social media pages, all while exposing themselves to potential identity theft dangers.
In 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received 4.8 million identity theft and fraud reports, a 53 percent increase from 2019.
It's not surprising that identity theft is the top consumer fraud in the United States. What's alarming is that 29 percent are repeat victims.
"Identity theft is the number one type of consumer fraud in the U.S.," said director of the Ohio Department of Commerce Sherry Maxfield. "We are wrapping up 2021 and so far, the Federal Trade Commission reports Ohio having more than 33,000 identity theft reports, with 16 percent of those directly related to credit card fraud. We continue to share helpful information with Ohioans in an effort to keep them safe from this type of fraud."
With a significant increase in shopping throughout the holiday season, consumers are naturally more vulnerable to credit card fraud, particularly while shopping online.
Online shopping is not only easy, but it's incredibly convenient.
You can make purchases from your phone or computer anytime and in some cases from anywhere. But this convenience comes at a price, it potentially exposes you to fraud, and more importantly identity theft.
Tips to protect your personal and financial information from online scammers:
—Know your vendor — Before providing any personal or financial information, make sure that you are interacting with a reputable, established vendor. Some attackers may try to trick you by creating malicious websites that appear to be legitimate, so you should verify the legitimacy before supplying any information.
—Confirm the site's security — Check the website security settings. If the site is secure, its URL (web address) should start with "https://" and include a lock icon on the purchase or shopping cart page.
—Be a smart credit card user — While not everyone likes to use credit cards, they do offer a level of fraud protection that you may not get when using debit cards. In fact, credit card providers will likely notice identity theft activity even before you do. With that said, credit card fraud still exists because consumers tend to value convenience over protection. When using a credit card, don't allow the website to "remember" your card information. Decline website's offers to keep your credit card information stored in their system.
It may save time, but it's risky in the long run. As evidence by recent years, data breaches are very common, and stored information could compromise your identity.
—Utilize your card's security features — Some credit cards are offering special features that give you additional levels of protection when you shop online.
For example, some issuers provide virtual card numbers, which have a 16-digit number generated.
Virtual card numbers provide privacy so purchases are more difficult to be tracked and targeted by advertisers or scammers, while protecting sensitive banking information, including the real debit, credit or charge card account number, expiration date and security code.
Additionally, many credit cards also let you set up account alerts, which can inform you if purchases are made that seem suspicious or are above a certain amount.
If you believe you have been a victim of identity theft or other cyber fraud activity you may contact:
—FBI's Cleveland Division at 216-522-1400 or report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov.
—Contact one of the three major credit reporting agencies to place fraud alerts or freezes on your accounts.
Also get copies of your credit reports, to be sure no one has already tried to get unauthorized credit accounts with your personal information.
Confirm the credit reporting agency will alert the other two credit reporting agencies.
—Contact the fraud department at your bank, credit card issuers, and any other places where you have accounts.
If you need assistance filing a complaint against a state-chartered bank, credit union, or consumer finance company, call the Division of Financial Institutions' Office of Consumer Affairs at 866-278-0003.