Modern day bank robbers may not carry guns or don a mask, and they definitely don’t ride in on a horse. Instead, they steal identities and drain accounts using sophisticated technology.

Credit card data theft rose 50 percent from 2005 to 2010, USA Today reports, and a shocking 12 million cases of identity theft were reported in the U.S. in 2012, according to a recent study by Javelin Strategy & Research. How are banks trying to combat this type of fraud, and what can you do to protect yourself?

Former Bank Associates Convicted

Earlier this year, former bank teller Victoria Metz, 26, from Albany, Ga., was charged with 12 counts of embezzlement of government property and four counts of aggravated identity theft. The former Colony Bank employee cashed almost $80,000 in stolen IRS refund checks. Metz was sentenced to four years in federal prison and must make restitution to the bank in full. Just this month in Vancouver another former bank manager, Pa Houa Vue, 40, stole $35,000 from a deceased customer’s bank account. These are only two of many headlines concerning bank-related identity theft we see almost daily. 

Staying a Step Ahead

Banks are trying to stay one step ahead of the latest identity theft techniques. Betty Reiss, a spokeswoman from Bank of America, told Wired.com that some identity theft cannot be controlled by the banks alone. Many people become victims through phishing scams and mail theft.

TD Bank suggests consumers follow these tips for safe(r) Internet use: 

  • Never share passwords with people
  • Do not use the same password for everything 
  • Only make online purchases over secure networks
  • Use anti-virus protection software
  • Never reply to emails or pop-up messages that ask for personal information

Prevent Identity Theft

Banks have a number of tips for consumers who want to protect themselves from identity theft. Of course, keep passwords private, and only create passwords that are not easy to guess. A birth date may be an easy password for an identity thief to guess, but a pet’s name may be more secure. Ideally, consumers should also select passwords that combine letters and numbers, and they should use a different password for each account.

Identity thieves have tools for stealing consumer’s information online. Consumers should never use a website that does not have a closed padlock on the upper corner of their browser, and they should be aware that identity thieves have been known to make copycat websites or pop-ups to steal information.

Kenneth Olan from First Victoria National Bank advises consumers to protect themselves with a product like LifeLock. On the BBB, LifeLock is classified as an identity theft and protection tool and has an A+ rating.

The cost of identity theft is often not carried by the banks themselves. In many cases, the banks pass these costs back to consumers in the form of higher interest rates and fees.

~ Jose Stewart