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Helping your clients understand and prevent identity theft

March 3, 2022

Emerging Identity Theft Trends

A recent Nationwide research study revealed that over one quarter of individuals (26%) have experienced identity theft, while 39% know of someone who has been a victim.

What’s worse, identity theft continues to be on the rise. This rise has been evidenced through a surge in complaints to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC):1

  • The FTC received nearly 1.4 million complaints related to identity theft in 2020, up 113% from approximately 650,000 complaints in 2019.
  • Losses stemming from identity theft reached $712.4 billion in 2020, representing a 42% increase from $502.5 billion in 2019.

Unemployment fraud has become a growing concern since the initial onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, as criminals sought to take advantage of the increasing number of individuals filing for unemployment benefits. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) estimates that more than $63 billion has been paid out improperly through unemployment fraud or related errors since March 2020.2 Although the FTC is still investigating the surge in this form of fraud, it shared that “tens of thousands” of individuals have likely been affected since the pandemic began. In response, the DOL directed $100 million in funding to combat unemployment fraud across the country.3 With these numbers in mind, it’s clear that identity theft is a risk that can’t be ignored. Therefore, it’s important to understand common identity theft tactics and how to help your clients mitigate risks in this space.

Key Identity Theft Tactics

There are a wide range of strategies that criminals may utilize to commit identity theft. Some of the most common tactics include debit or credit card fraud, social security number theft, unemployment fraud, driver’s license or passport fraud.

Regardless of what strategy criminals use, identity theft can wreak havoc on any individual—resulting in lost time and money.

Share these helpful tips with your clients to help mitigate Identity Theft and Cybercrime
The most effective methods for preventing identity theft center around keeping personal information (whether it’s physical or digital) safe and secure, as well as watching for potentially suspicious activity. Here’s an outline of the top identity theft prevention measures:4

  • Utilize strong passwords. Creating complex and unique passwords is a critical step in safeguarding personal accounts and deterring identity theft attempts. Passwords should be at least eight characters and contain a variety of letters, numbers and symbols. It’s best to use different passwords for each account and update them on a monthly basis. To help keep customers safe, Nationwide has joined 1Password to offer their password management service at a discount for all members. Learn more.
  • Store and destroy sensitive information safely. To prevent criminals from accessing both physical and digital information for identity theft purposes, it needs to be stored correctly. Physical records should be kept in an organized, secure area. When documents containing personal information are no longer needed, it’s critical to destroy them immediately. Physical records should be shredded, while digital records should be permanently deleted (not archived).
  • Ensure adequate cybersecurity practices. Implementing solid cybersecurity measures on personal devices and technology can help protect sensitive information and ward off identity thieves. These measures may include setting up multifactor authentication, using a private Wi-Fi connection, installing antivirus and malware software on all devices, conducting regular system updates and maintaining proper privacy settings on websites and social media platforms. Furthermore, Nationwide’s free Cyber Risk Assessment can help identify individuals’ unique digital exposures and offer additional protection guidance.
  • Beware of scams. Criminals often launch scams via phishing emails, fraudulent websites or deceiving phone calls to access victims’ personal information and commit identity theft. To avoid being victimized by these scams, remember never to answer emails or phone calls from unknown individuals. Also, refrain from sharing personal information online or over the phone—especially with suspicious individuals.
  • Watch for red flags. Lastly, make sure to consistently watch for red flags on personal account statements and credit reports. Key indicators to look for include fraudulent purchases (no matter how small), billing or collection inaccuracies, unauthorized loans or services, incorrect payment history or any other unexpected credit changes. Inform the necessary financial institutions and credit bureaus as soon as suspicious activity arises. Further, consider setting up fraud alert systems and using a paid identity monitoring service for extra protection.

Nationwide’s Identity Theft Protection Services

It’s evident that identity theft is a significant threat and needs to be taken seriously. By understanding identity theft tactics and prevention methods, individuals can take action to safeguard themselves. As an added layer of security, Nationwide also offers identity theft insurance. This coverage—which can be added as an endorsement to an existing Nationwide policy—offers up to $25,000 for covered, out-of-pocket expenses in the event of an identity theft incident.

In addition, this insurance comes with a range of identity theft protection services, including access to a dedicated team of cyber risk specialists, online data protection software, a library full of identity protection resources, and a digital dashboard that monitors fraud risk levels and provides suspicious activity alerts. Nationwide also recently added a new identity theft protection tool known as Email Health Check. This helpful tool allows individuals to see whether their email addresses (as well as related email account details) have been exposed in past data breaches and offers steps to better safeguard their sensitive information going forward.

Altogether, Nationwide’s identity theft coverage and associated protection services cost only $45 per year (less than $4 each month).