16.6 million identity theft victims in 2012One in 14 U.S. residents ages 16 and older — 16.6 million people — fell victim to identity theft in 2012, according to a report released last week by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The report detailed the findings of trends and statistics related to the crime from the 2012 Identity Theft Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey.

The bureau’s report also found that 85 percent of identity theft incidents involved fraudulent use existing credit cards or bank account information and 91 percent of victims knew nothing about the offender.

How to protect yourself from identity theft

There is no way to prevent identity theft, but, luckily, there are steps you can take to keep your identity safe. Considering that majority of the victim’s identities were stolen by strangers and preexisting credit cards and bank accounts, it means that victims were unknowingly revealing some of their personal information. One of the main ways that people unintentionally reveal their personal information is by throwing away mail or documents that contain sensitive information.

A proactive way to prevent thieves from gathering your personal information from your garbage is by shredding all of your mail — everything from a credit card pre-approval to a general letter from your doctor. Make sure you purchase a cross shredder because it completely destroys the documents, as opposed to a straight shred that only cuts the paper into strips.

Another way to protect your identity from theft is to check your credit card and bank account statements very carefully to verify that all of the transactions were completed by you. This is especially important considering the bureau’s report found that the majority of identity theft fraud involved the victim’s existing bank accounts or credit cards. If you find a transaction that was not completed by you, then you should call the bank or financial institution to report the potential fraud.

On top of shredding any documents and verifying credit card and bank account transactions, you should also check your credit reports regularly. The government allows you to check them for free once per year with AnnualCreditReport.com, however once per year isn’t often enough to catch the opening fraudulent credit lines that could be opened by thieves throughout the year. This is why it’s a good idea to invest in some sort of credit report monitoring service that actively monitors your credit reports and alerts you if any new activity appears on them.

Is there an easier way to protect your identity?

An alternative to actively checking your credit reports is to sign up for an identity theft protection service. Most of these services not only actively monitoring all three of your credit reports, but also monitor the activity of your personal information on public records as well as make sure your information is not being sold or traded to identity thieves on the Internet black market. Similar to the credit report monitoring services detailed above, these services will also send you a real-time alert if any of your information is jeopardized or if anything changes with public records or your credit reports.

Visit our identity theft protection reviews to learn the details about each of these services, and find the best service for you.