About 8.6 million households in the United States have experienced the devastating effects of identity theft in the last 10 years, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

More worrying data was recently reported. This year, it is expected that $21 billion will be stolen as a result of identity theft, according to a study by Javelin Strategy & Research. And, the Committee on Ways and Means said it will cost between $500 and $1,200 and take 30 to 60 hours for a victim to resolve identity theft.

As the problem becomes more and more widespread throughout the nation, it’s important for Americans to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves from the crime. A recent offered some useful tips in order to help consumers protect against identity theft.

How Does it Happen?
First, it is helpful to understand the many ways in which identity theft can occur. Identity thieves can obtain personal information on consumers through someone’s trash, stolen mail, by searching public information or even just searching the Internet. However, these criminals are becoming more creative with how they steal a consumer’s information. One such example is criminals creating online scams, luring consumers to websites where their confidential information is obtained, the Deseret News article stated.

Take Extra Precaution
Keeping a close eye on personal information, bank accounts, purchases and credit history are just some of the ways to prevent identity theft. Always request a receipt when making a purchase, the source said, and inspect bank statements to see if there are any charges that were not authorized. Identity thieves steal money from Americans’ bank accounts by using a fake ID or skimming a credit card at a gas station.

Once you have inspected all financial documents, shred them instead of simply throwing them in the trash. Another tip the source suggested was avoid giving out personal information over a phone call. Using complex online passwords to personal accounts, change bank card personal identification numbers often and secure all sensitive information and documents are more identity theft tips, according to Deseret News.

What to do When You Have Fallen Victim to Identity Theft?
If someone has obtained your personal information, immediately close bank or credit card accounts that may have been compromised, the source said. Filing a local police report is also a smart idea. Another step is placing a 90-day fraud alert with a credit reporting agency to help keep your credit score from taking a blow.

Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the country, and many Americans likely know someone who has fallen victim to it, Greenville, N.C., CBS affiliate WNCT reported. Identity theft is now the most popular consumer complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission, according to the source, proving how important for Americans to take the proper precautions to prevent becoming a victim.

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