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How to guard against identity theft and bank fraud

Survey shows it is a growing concern for consumers

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Reports of data breaches involving credit card networks at stores and hotels seem to be increasing. So maybe it's not surprising that consumers are worrying more about it happening to them, and what it might mean.

FICO, an analytics software company, reports that its latest research shows 44% of consumers rank identity theft and bank fraud as their top concern. That's more than double the percentage who said they worried about a terrorist attack.

Eighty-six percent of consumers were concerned about the theft of their Social Security number, followed by 76% who worry about their bank account information being stolen.

"Human beings hate to lose," said Bob Shiflet, vice president of FICO's fraud business line. "The survey confirms the psychology of loss aversion, especially when it comes to money and the likelihood of an event happening to us. The loss of your personal information or money from your account cuts deep, it is a violation, and people now know it's much more likely to happen to them."

Big jump in identity theft

Consumers worry about these things for good reason. A report by Javelin Strategy & Research found a record number of consumers -- 15.4 million -- were hit with some form of identity fraud in 2016.

Fortunately, there are some ways to protect yourself. When it comes to credit cards, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) advises consumers to make a record of all credit card account numbers, their expiration dates and the phone number to report fraud. Keep that list handy in case a card is lost or stolen, or you notice an unauthorized charge on the account.

This might sound obvious, but the FTC says you shouldn't lend your card to anyone, even your kids. Shred all statements and bills that have your account information.

Careful with cards

The biggest increase in credit card fraud last year came from cases where a charge was made when the card was not physically present -- charges made online or not on the phone. You should make online purchases only from trusted sites and never give your card information to anyone who calls you, unsolicited, to sell you something.

Identity theft can not only lead to financial loss, it can be very expensive and time consuming to resolve. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) urges consumers to be extremely careful with personally identifiable information, such as Social Security number, date of birth, and mother's maiden name.

"Be suspicious if someone contacts you unexpectedly online and asks for your personal information," FDIC warns on its website. "It doesn’t matter how legitimate the e-mail or website may look. Only open e-mails that look like they are from people or organizations you know, and even then, be cautious if they look questionable. Be especially wary of fraudulent e-mails or websites that have typos or other obvious mistakes."

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