(KFVS) - A consumer alert for Heartland residents: You may more at risk for identity theft and fraud if you live in Missouri or Illinois.
According to a new survey by WalletHub, Illinois ranks as the 6th most vulnerable state in the country and Missouri comes in at 9.
In Fact, Missouri is one of three states that sees the most identity theft complaints per capita.
Illinois sees some of the highest loss amounts due to online identity theft.
Kentucky, on the other hand, is arguable one of the safest places to live. WalletHub ranked it at 43.
This year alone there have already been 901 security breaches, giving fraudsters access to more than 34 million records.
Nationwide, the Federal Trade Commission estimates that as many as 9 million Americans experience some form of identity theft each year.
The big issue: fraudsters are getting more and more creative.
Not only are they going through your mail and trash to get your personal information, but they are also sending you phony emails and manipulating credit card machines at gas stations.
There is good news, though, you can make some everyday changes to protect yourself.
- Make a Credit Card Your Primary Spending Vehicle: Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express all offer blanket $0 liability guarantees for unauthorized credit card purchases. In other words, if someone steals your credit card and runs up a bunch of charges, you won’t have to pay for them."I'm a strong proponent of using credit cards vs. debit cards," says John D. Farmer, an adjunct professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of North Florida. “If your debit card gets compromised, a bad guy can drain your account. Although you’re probably going to get your money back eventually, in the meantime it’s gone. Whereas with a credit card, you don’t have any of your money tied up in the process."
- Sign for Debit Card Purchases: The four major card networks also provide liability protections to debit card users as well. However, you’re only guaranteed to be covered if a signature is used for “verification.”
- Review Your Accounts on a Regular Basis: Checking your monthly account statements for charges that you did not make or any other irregularities and bringing them to the issuer’s attention is a great way to nip fraud in the bud.“The single best practice consumers can adopt to prevent financial fraud is to balance their accounts every month. Know what is coming in and what's going out, and double check it,” says Jill Vihtelic, a professor of business at St. Mary’s College. “Credit monitoring by an outside provider is no replacement for individual due diligence.”
- Mind Your Surroundings: When you’re on the phone in a public place, it’s not hard for a cunning identity thief to figure out whether you’re talking about a Social Security Number, date of birth, credit card number, expiration date, etc. From there, they’ll be able to apply for a new account under your name, change your address, and engage in other forms of crime.
- Leave No Room For Doubt: Never leave the final amount of a transaction open for interpretation. That means, for example, making sure to always fill in the “Tip” field on a bill, even if you’re only going to write “$0.00.”
- Know Your Wallet: Simply knowing what you have in your wallet and therefore what stands to be compromised should a pickpocket swipe it from you will mitigate the potential for any corresponding fraud.David M. Cordell, a clinical professor of finance and managerial economics at the University of Texas at Dallas, recommends that you “make a photocopy of every relevant item in your wallet: credit cards, driver’s license, insurance card, etc.” That way, he says, “you can be in position to make a faster recovery.”
The time to start making these changes is now.
WalletHub points out that some of the most high-profile data breaches, like the ones involving Target in 2013 and Home Depot the following year, tend to occur during times when shoppers are spending the most money, like the holiday season.
That is part of the reason why December was declared National Identity Theft Prevention and Awareness month.