A new AARP survey reports that a high number of Iowans have failed to take basic precautions against digital identity fraud, prompting AARP/Iowa and the AARP Fraud Watch Network to launch an awareness campaign on identity theft risks and prevention tips. 

In Iowa, the survey found that only 25 percent of respondents were aware that a fraud alert will not prevent their credit file from being shared with potential creditors; 49 percent of respondents reported knowing that ID theft monitoring services do not prevent identity thieves from stealing the consumer’s identity. Only 45 percent of respondents reported knowing that using a credit card is safer from fraud than a debit card, as consumers are responsible for no more than $50 of fraudulent charges on a credit card; if money is stolen from a bank account through a debit card, there are no protections on that money.

Nationally, the survey, which collected responses from 2,024 U.S. residents through July, found that only 40 percent of respondents reported having online access to all of their bank accounts, and 45 percent of adults have experienced fraudulent charges on a credit or debit card -- yet only 14 percent have ordered a security freeze on their credit report. Fifty-five percent of adults have used the same password for more than one online account.

“Our survey results indicate that a lot of people may feel overwhelmed, and have just given up,” said AARP State Director Brad Anderson. “Two-thirds of those surveyed said that given the number of data breaches that have occurred, they think it is inevitable that criminals will be able to exploit their credit at some point. But we are emphasizing that there are powerful things you can do to make sure that stolen data can’t be used against you.” 

The AARP Fraud Watch Network recommends people take three steps to protect their digital identity: 
  • Order a security freeze with the three credit reporting bureaus so no one can open a new credit account with the consumer’s information. Beginning in late September, there will no longer be a fee to place a freeze on credit reports, thanks to new legislation passed by Congress in May. AARP offers more information on the process here.
  • Set up digital access to all financial accounts, including bank accounts, credit cards and 401(k) accounts. Monitor the accounts frequently to stay up to date on all transactions.
  • Create unique passwords for each online account so that if one is compromised, it does not put other accounts at risk. AARP recommends using a digital password manager, which keeps passwords secure and generates different passwords for each online account.