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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – According to the Federal Justice Department, 17 million Americans have their identities stolen every year.
Identity theft is like a weed. Cut down one path to crime and three more spring up to take its place. The battle changes every day as criminals develop new ways to work around safeguards.
Nicole Ambiega of Youngstown knows first-hand about identity theft. Her account was wiped clean and closed without her knowledge. She wasn’t a target just once; Nicole has been a victim of thieves five different times.
“It has caused financial ruin, and it has caused a lot of undue stress in my family,” Ambiega said.
The fraud adds up. All told Ambiega was hit for $15,000.
It takes about $20 and five minutes to get access to someone’s name, birth date, bank card and pin number online. Even in the store, your identity is at risk.
A video from the Ohio County Auditors Association shows hackers install a card skimmer in a matter of seconds. You can watch that video above.
Now, every bank card used there could be compromised.
Stephen Reynolds, with the Ice Miller law firm in Cleveland, helps companies nationwide prevent cyber attacks. Reynolds says the biggest mistake many people make is assuming their social security number is private. He points to websites where you can buy access to someone else’s social security number.
“People treat them as if they are secret, but they really are not, and they were not designed for that purpose,” Reynolds said.
As for Ambiega, she says she learned that some banks are better than others when it comes to fighting back. She advises finding a financial institution that can ensure protection if something happens.
There are some steps you can take to protect yourself:
- Get a free consumer credit check every year
- Many banks now offer free credit score monitoring and fraud protection
- Some companies will monitor your credit for you and block any unwanted activity for a fee
One thing the experts all agree on is that you can’t just assume that you’re safe from fraud.