Last fall, worries over the U.S. and global economy soared as stock market values hit record lows.
To make matters even more dire, unemployment numbers escalated, reaching 8.1% this February—a number not seen in 25 years, according to statistics.
Most financial gurus advise a hold-on attitude for the next 2-5 years while government programs and consumer response show us how the current economic woes will shake out. But while the average citizen is taking care not to make risky moves in the market and to put assets into presumably low-risk programs, that hard earned money may be being watched by criminals who see a flagging economy as their own personal cash cow.
In a Failing Economy, Thieves Take More Risks
Experts agree that financial worries create the perfect storm for identity thieves and financial defrauders. There are a number of reasons for this phenomenon, which tend to repeat during nationwide economic downturns.
First, it is prudent to keep in mind that while law abiding individuals are panicking due to less cash flow and fears of the future, so too are those whose motives are less innocent.
Another factor is that savvy criminals realize desperate individuals are more likely to investigate get-rich-quick schemes in an effort to keep their families afloat. The wiliest and most insidious among today’s thieves are those that have a knack for “selling” an idea that, during less scary times, a sensible person wouldn’t give the time of day…then walking away with the person’s hopes, dreams and bank account.
Old-Fashioned Thievery: Still in Style
Of course, traditional thievery methods continue to occur as well. Home and office break-ins can be expected to increase during the coming months, according to theft experts.
So does identity theft based not only on data breaches (see below) but by hands-on theft. One of the most frequent (and untraceable) methods involves the thief rifling through dumpsters, garbage cans or even personal mailboxes in search of credit card offers or other paperwork that could give clues to a person’s identity, which is then lifted and used by the thief.
Disturbingly, even seemingly average workers are taking more than they earned. A number of surveys indicate that inside jobs—data breaches and the lifting of both computer and physical files by employees—is a growing problem.
In January, a McAfee, Inc. study showed that 42% of respondents worried about data breaches caused by former employees.
And an ominous 60% of polled individuals told the Ponemon Institute in Michigan that they’ve stolen data when leaving a company.
What Concerned Individuals Can Do?
Though the news may seem bleak, there are ways to thwart a criminal who is eying your hard-earned assets.
Security warnings posted on front gates no longer seem to be a major deterrent, but physically barring thieves from, for example, your mail will send a clear message. Consider investing in a secure, locking mailbox so that a stranger can’t get his or her hands on your information. Mailbox theft typically takes some subtlety and finesse; a potential ID thief is less likely to stand in front of the box trying to jimmy it open while cars and possibly pedestrians go by.
Other thrifty but proven methods include consumer monitoring services, which alert the individual to possible misuse of his or her accounts, and keeping a sharp eye on all debit transactions (try to go over your accounts at least twice a month). And be sure to get a copy of your credit report once a year, a free service that can save you future headaches and possible lawyer fees.
Don’t accept risks to your financial present and future. By taking a proactive, hands-on approach to watch dogging your accounts, your mail and your home, you can avoid becoming a negative statistic…and keep the assets you earn.