Identity Theft Risks: Things You're Probably Doing That Increase Your Vulnerability

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Identity theft is no joke. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that in 2012, 7% of Americans over the age of 16 were victims of identity theft. The overwhelming majority (85%) of identity theft took place against already existing accounts. Over a quarter of the victims spent more than a month getting their finances back together.

Sure, identity theft is scary, but that's something that happens to other people, right? Wrong. In fact, you'd be surprised just how many behaviors you're already engaged in that are opening you up to identity theft.

Keeping Too Much Personal Information on Your Phone

Steven Weisman is a professor at Bentley University and runs the website Scamicide, which tracks the latest and greatest trends in Internet fraud. He's always shocked by how much people store on their phones without password protections or encryption. "People have their credit card numbers, their Social Security Numbers, their family details and everything else on there," he says. The solution, he says, is to put as little personal information as possible on your smartphone and to protect it with a password, encryption and security software.

Using Your Debit Card Online

"I never use my debit card for anything," says Jack Tomarchio of Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney, where he chairs the company's cybersecurity and data protection wing. He has also been a principal deputy undersecretary of intelligence with the Department of Homeland Security. "Credit cards don't have the best protection," he explains, "but they still have better protection under federal law than debit cards." In fact, most of the people who had their identities stolen during the massive Target breach were victimized because they used credit cards rather than debit cards.

Clicking Dubious Links

One thing that Tomarchio and Weisman agree on: you can never be too careful when it comes to clicking on links you get in your email. "If I get emails from people I don't know, I just delete them," says Tomarchio.