The Identity Theft Flu: 5 Ways to Stay Healthy

By Adam Levin

NEW YORK (—Identity theft is a lot like the flu. You can do everything right – minimize your risk of exposure and so forth – but if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, then you're toast. You can be standing next to the wrong person on a bus and get the flu, and when your data is sitting on the wrong database and the wrong person gains access, you become a victim of identity theft.

According to the latest study by Javelin Strategy & Research, "almost 1 in 4 consumers that received a data breach letter became a victim of identity fraud, which is the highest rate since 2010."

A couple of months ago, I commissioned a poll by GFK Roper to gauge awareness and concern about identity theft. To my chagrin the results were worse than I expected. Approximately 40 percent of the respondents said they believed that threats about the danger and probability of becoming a victim were little more than a marketing ploy cooked up by communications departments at identity theft service providers. Even Consumer Reports recently said that they believed the threat of identity theft was "overblown."

While your risk of becoming ill fluctuates depending upon factors such as the strength of that season's particular flu strain, your chances of becoming roadkill for an identity thief continue to rise. The percentage of all consumers who have become identity theft victims has increased in each of the last three years, as the crime spread to affect 12 million victims in 2012 alone, according to Javelin.

If your Social Security number is exposed in a breach, your risk multiplies. Javelin found that, "consumers who had their Social Security number compromised in a data breach were 5 times more likely to be a fraud victim than an average consumer."