Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the country, says the credit bureau TransUnion, with almost 10 million incidents a year. In fact, the bureau calculates that every minute, 19 people become victims, and the average cost to the victim is $500 and 30 hours to straighten out the mess.

In these days of phishing emails, viruses that enable criminals to steal your identify, and our favorite retailers targeted with data breaches, even the telephone in your office or your pocket is being used to commit scams and frauds.

“Taking steps to prevent identity theft can greatly reduce your chances of becoming a victim,” said Samuel Delgado, vice president of external affairs for Verizon New Jersey. “Identity theft hits the senior community especially hard, which is why we are continually offering suggestions to this population, as well as all New Jerseyans.”

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Delgado said Verizon Corporate Security has compiled a detailed list of different scams that have affected its customers. Here are the top 10 ways to protect yourself from identity theft:

  1. Shred all documents containing personal information, such as your Social Security number, your credit card or account numbers, even your middle name. This can include bank or credit card statements, pre-approval letters, or utility bills. If you aren't sure, shred it before discarding it. Use a locked filing cabinet or a fire-proof safe for important documents that you want to keep.
  2. Protect all of your online passwords. Don't store them on paper or in unsecured files.
  3. Be cautious when sharing personally identifying information on social media sites.
  4. Be wary of callers who are providing you information on your account and then ask you to provide basic account information.
  5. Validate promotional offers with the company before logging into your online account to accept them. For example, if you get an email promising a $30 bill credit off your wireless bill, do some research online to ensure it is not a scam. When in doubt, contact the company directly to validate the offer.
  6. Secure your internet connection. Using public WiFi connections may place you at risk for a fraudster to obtain the information stored on your computer or smartphone.
  7. Regularly monitor your credit report for unusual activity. Many sites offer a free credit report for a promise to subscribe to additional services. Under the Fair Credit Act, you are entitled to a free credit report from the reporting agencies.
  8. If you can unlock your phone with a swipe of a finger, so can anyone else. Use a strong password to prevent unauthorized access and protect your personal information.
  9. Fake hot-spots with real-looking registration pages are easy bait for hackers to capture any information you send across the hacker’s network. It's safer to connect using a mobile hotspot while controlling access with a secure password.
  10. Make sure your laptops and mobile devices have updated virus detection software.

For more information on scams, you can visit Verizon's security page. 

For more information on identity theft, you can also visit the Federal Trade Commission.