According to data from the Federal Trade Commission, Georgia had the second highest number of identity theft complaints in 2011; only Florida ranked higher. More than 11,000 complaints were filed by Georgia residents, a 20 percent increase from 2010.
Nationally, identity theft increased by approximately 13 percent over the same period, according to a study by Javelin Strategy and Research. Javelin conducts primary research on consumer behavior and financial trends. The study also found that unsafe use of social media is one cause of the spike, including posting birth dates, pet names and other seemingly "innocent" information online that can be used by identity thieves.
Often identity theft and fraud can be prevented by following simple steps to safeguard personal information. Wendy Murdock, a MasterCard executive who works on fraud prevention efforts, discussed how consumers can protect themselves. "Using a credit, debit or prepaid card is much safer than using cash or checks. Fraud detection is built into the technology behind electronic payments and most consumers have zero-liability protection so they won't be held liable for fraudulent purchases. It's often human error -such as having too much of your private information public - that makes people vulnerable to fraud."
Murdock outlined specific ways to protect personal information. "There are relatively simple things people can do to reduce their risk including keeping information such as your birth date and address confidential - so that thieves can't open accounts using your information," she said. "Also, use a firewall and virus software on home computers; place online purchases through secure, reputable websites only; avoid sending your card number in an email; and don't make online purchases while using an unsecure wireless network."
For more information, visit masteryourcardga.org.