Identity theft is more common offline with paper than online

ID TheftA recent study released by the Better Business Bureau shows that most instances of identity fraud occur through traditional channels that are paper-based, not Internet-based. Computer related crimes accounted for only 11.6% of all known-cause identity fraud in 2004, and much of that could have been avoided with updated security measures.

Most identity theft and fraud can be tied to paper information such as lost or stolen wallet or checkbook, stolen paper mail, fraudulent changes of address, or information taken from the garbage.

The majority of identity fraud is self-detected. Individuals who access accounts online can provide earlier detection of crime than those who rely only upon mailed monthly paper statements. Victims of identity theft who detected the crime by monitoring accounts online experienced an average of $551 in losses compared to $4,543 when detected from paper statements.

Based on the latest findings, the following tips have been issued for consumers to protect themselves against financial identity fraud.

  • Replace paper bills, statements and checks with Internet (paperless) versions.
  • Consider moving to an electronic bill payment service.
  • Before discarding, shred all private documents.
  • Sign up for automatic payroll deposits (direct deposit).
  • Retrieve paper mail promptly and place outgoing checks or other sensitive documents in a U.S. Postal Service mailbox.
  • Keep passwords hidden (even in your own home) and change them frequently.
  • Don’t discard a computer without deleting all sensitive data.
  • Use and regularly update firewalls and anti-virus software.
  • Be suspiciously reluctant to release Social Security or account numbers, particularly to those requesting such information by eMail or phone.
  • Contact your financial provider if you fail to receive statements on time.
  • Review your credit report at least annually.
  • Victims of theft should notify their financial providers, begin monitoring their accounts more frequently, and place an “alert” through a credit bureau such as Equifax, Experian or TransUnion.

To see if you are at risk of becoming an identity fraud victim, go to and take the Better Business Bureau Identity Safety Quiz.