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Good, Old-Fashioned Theft Still Tops Cyber Crime

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- When it comes to getting fleeced financially, are the Internet and mobile devices getting a bad rap?

Apparently so, if you ask analysts at Travelers (TRV - Get Report), the Hartford, Conn.-based insurance giant.

Travelers is out with a fresh look at identity fraud cases concluding it's not online or mobile devices that fuel most fraud cases but just old-fashioned "offline methods" such as burglary, stolen wallets and stolen identifications leading to most financial fraud crimes.

Such offline crimes account for 73% of all fraud cases, Travelers says, a number culled from its own database of fraud claims data. Online or data breach crimes accounted for only 15% of claims cases.

Far and away, stolen wallets and pocketbooks are the leading trigger to identity theft. Stolen driver's licenses or Social Security cards are the second-most common cause of I.D. theft; burglaries ranked third; and in fourth was cyber breaches, which have received significantly more media attention in the past few years.

There's a lesson in those figures, Travelers says.

Something as innocuous as hanging on to your wallet may be your best prevention against financial fraud with building a cyber-firewall against I.D. thieves on your mobile device having a lesser role.

"When everyday essentials like wallets or drivers licenses are stolen or go missing, identity fraud often follows," says Joe Reynolds, identity fraud product manager at Travelers. "Credit cards, drivers licenses and other sources of personal information enable criminals to commit a fraud or crime, all in your name."

Reynolds says that perhaps the best protection, past hanging tight to your wallet or pocketbook, is checking your monthly bank and credit card statements. "People are not always aware that someone is illegally using their identity until suspicious activity appears on their monthly financial statement," he says. "It is critical that consumers closely review these monthly documents and remember to immediately call the bank if they suspect fraudulent activity."

What else can consumers do? Reynolds and Travelers have a few thoughts:

  • Emphasize the essentials. Carry credit cards or a Social Security card as little as possible. Leave them at home in a lockbox or safe when possible.
  • Be alert. Beware of unsolicited requests, even from charities that tug at your heartstrings. Scammers are all about getting your financial data, so don't share it with anyone -- or any organization -- you don't know.
  • Shred. Destroy old bills or invoices (and definitely don't carry them around with you). If you toss them whole in the trash, be warned that fraudsters aren't above rooting through it to get your credit card number.
  • Check your credit score. Always know your score. Ideally, check it at least once per month. You can get a free credit score at AnnualCreditReport.com.

But the most basic tip: Emphasize an old-fashioned approach to identity protection and keep a close eye on your wallet and pocketbook.

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