In the past year, have you bought a house, sold a house, gotten married, gotten divorced, had a child, become pregnant, lost your job, or gotten a new one?
If so, you have a higher risk of identity theft.
All of these major life events have one thing in common, according to Paige Hanson, educational programs manager at Lifelock, the identity theft protection company: You’re sharing more personal information than you normally would.
Take buying or selling a house, for instance. “Your paperwork passes through the hands of multiple agents and representatives,” Hanson explains.
Those documents might include your Social Security number, date of birth, passport number, or copies of your driver’s license — all information that can be used to steal your identity.
Homebuyers are nearly three times as likely to be a victim of identity theft as the average person, according to statistics collected by Lifelock, and sellers are almost four times as likely.
You may not be able to avoid giving away that kind of personal information in a real estate transaction, Hanson says, but it’s always worth asking if providing your Social Security number, for instance, is really necessary.
“A lot of people think that just because they’ve been asked for information, they have to provide it,” she says. “Before automatically giving it away, ask why. A lot of times, they won’t have an answer. And maybe you’ll be encouraging them to change their security standards.”
Lifelock’s research has found that just about any major life change comes with the danger of identity theft:
- Your risk of getting your identity stolen is 3.5 times higher if you’ve been married in the past year.
- Having a child or becoming pregnant increases the risk of identity theft by 2.7 times.
- Either losing or starting a new job raises your risk of identity theft by 50%.
- People who have gotten divorced or become separated in the past 12 months are 3.5 times more likely to experience identity theft.
Often, it’s not a data breach that puts your personal information out in the open — it’s what you’ve posted yourself. Engaged couples often include details like where they live or where they’re going on honeymoon on their wedding websites, and new parents share their children’s full names and birth dates on Facebook. There’s also the risk of unintentionally exposing your personal data when you use public wi-fi networks to apply for jobs, shop online, or check dating websites.
So whether it’s a form at the doctor’s office that asks for your Social Security number or a website that wants to know your birth date, stop and think before you give that information away. “People need to take active ownership in protecting themselves,” Hanson says.