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 about 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, according to Wendy Murdock, a MasterCard executive who works on fraud prevention efforts.
“Using a credit, debit or prepaid card is much safer than using cash or checks,” she said. “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,” she said, “including keeping information such as your birth date and address confidential, so that thieves can’t open accounts using your information.”
Murdock noted that using a firewall and virus software, as well as placing online purchases only through secure reputable websites are other ways to reduce the risk of identity theft.
MasterCard recently launched a public education campaign called Master Your Card - Georgia.
The campaign provides consumers and businesses with information on how to get more from their money by mastering all the benefits of electronic payments.
For more information visit www.masteryourcardga.org.