Identity Theft: How to Protect Your Info

It’s getting harder – and more annoying – to protect your personal information from identity theft, especially online. Just consider all the apps and sites where you’ve entered your email, phone number or address and created passwords.

Think you’ve managed to protect your personal information from identity theft? Good for you. Unfortunately hackers keep getting smarter and up the ante. And whether you know it or not, some of your personal information likely has already been skimmed. 

Can you up your cybersecurity game to stop hackers?

You’ve likely heard about a credit freeze, fraud alerts, credit monitoring services, and things like two-step authentication. But setting them up seems like too much hassle? As the old saying goes….an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That rings especially true in protecting your personal data, since victims will spend enormous amounts of time, money and hassle trying to recover from identity theft and very little in preventing it. 

Yet it’s difficult to stay bulletproof – especially since most of us increasingly depend on mobile phones, frequently exposing our info via unsecured wifi for shopping and banking apps, emails, and social media sites. Identity thieves are looking for even the slightest vulnerability to harvest data – like your name, address, Social Security number, financial account info, credit card numbers, passwords – anything so they can masquerade as you or create an entirely new identity.

Use these checklists to help protect data and identity

While you yourself may be fairly adept at staying safe online, remember that kids and older folks may be more vulnerable. Here’s a summary (Checklist #1) that focuses on general “to dos” and cyber security habits to start. Checklist #2 targets online strategies to protect yourself and family members. Checklist #3 specifically refers to protecting your credit information and credit history.

Checklist #1 – Habits to Avoid Identity Theft

Every couple of seconds, another consumer become a victim of identity theft or mobile hacking. Thieves usually follow a trail of information gleaned from our own sloppiness, data stored by financial institutions or retail stores, and even credit card and job applications we fill out. According to the Better Business Bureau, almost one-fourth of victims are 18-24 year olds. To avoid being a victim if identity theft…

  1. CARRY ONLY essential IDs (driver’s license) and store your Social Security card, birth certificate, passport safely elsewhere.
  2. GUARD your account numbers and credit cards diligently. Do not give them to others to use.
  3. KEEP account passwords and PINs (Personal Identification Numbers) private. Use strong passwords; change them often.
  4. DON’T give out personal information, especially on phone calls you do not initiate or on social media sites.
  5. MONITOR your financial accounts, verify transactions, check balances and reconcile accounts regularly. (Of course, do business via a secure connection or phone where you cannot be overheard.)
  6. SHRED, SHRED, SHRED! Destroy unneeded receipts and personal mail, including credit card offers. If you don’t have a shredder, it’s time to get one.
  7. PICK UP your U.S. postal mail daily. Use a locked mailbox if possible.
  8. REDUCE printed junk mail you receive. You can do this by contacting 888-5OPT OUT or at optoutprescreen.com.
  9. REQUEST two-step authentication, especially for financial accounts or websites. This means that, in addition to logging in or calling, you request a text message or email and get a code to enter as the second step to verifying your identity.
  10. DISCOVER where your data has been leaked by using the site: HaveIBeenPwned.com and entering your email.

Checklist #2 – Protect Yourself Online

Hackers launch thousands of attacks daily. Thieves can redirect your mobile device to their sites, send altered apps to download, listen to your voicemails, skim your contact data, install malware or viruses, even take over your phone and demand ransom. So…

  1. THINK before clicking and NEVER CLICK on links that look similar to sites you use or on unknown links. Instead, type in the URL yourself.
  2. KNOW the sender before opening any document or attachment. Watch for phishing links and impersonator websites – they look official too.
  3. LOGOUT and re-login, rather than keep sites open.
  4. AVOID public Wi-Fi to access or transmit private info. Instead, use secure internet connections and encrypt sensitive data when transmitting.
  5. READ the fine print before clicking “agree” whenever prompted.
  6. DON’T auto-download updates for apps.
  7. AVOID using your debit card to buy online, but opt for your credit card. And, do not allow a site to store your credit card data.
  8. RUN a virus scan often. Keep the virus software updated.
  9. PROTECT your device by requiring a password or other verification to unlock it.
  10.  USE PASSWORDS when possible. Change or request new passwords often.

Checklist #3 – Protecting Credit Information

Have you ever received a letter from your financial institution or credit card issuer to inform you about a data leak that may have compromised your credit card information? Beware! When you receive a letter about a data breach, you are four times more likely to become an identity theft victim. So…

  1. FREEZE your credit files. A credit freeze (free) totally restricts access, and no lender can check your credit history or get a report. To order a credit freeze, you must contact each credit reporting agency:
    • Equifax – 800.525.6285 
    • Experian – 888.397.3742 
    • TransUnion – 800.680.7289 

    You supply your full name, address, birthdate, Social Security number and other personal information. Each agency sends you a confirmation letter and PIN (Personal Identification Number) if you ever want to lift the freeze. A freeze remains in place until you request it be lifted.

  2. PLACE a fraud alert on your credit file. If you don’t want to use a freeze, you can place a fraud alert (also free) to protect your credit from unverified access. Lenders can still get a credit report if you are applying for credit and if they can verify your identity. To place a fraud alert, contact one of the credit reporting agencies listed above and give proof of your identity. This agency must tell the other two agencies of the alert. A freeze or fraud alert does not affect your credit score, stop pre-screened offers for credit, or prevent you from getting your free annual credit report.
  3. ACCESS your credit report annually. It’s a good idea to monitor what’s in your credit file. You are entitled to get a free credit report annually from each of the three credit bureaus by request at the U.S. government site, annualcreditreport.com. This does not include your score, just your credit report. You can check for errors and anything that looks suspicious or like a fraudulent new account using your name.
  4. CORRECT an error immediately should you find one in your credit history. Do this by contacting the credit reporting agency. Incidentally, each agency may report credit transactions a bit differently, so one may have an error and the others may not.
  5. DESTROY unsolicited credit card offers you get by mail. You probably get them often, and thieves love these.
  6. DO NOT give retailers permission to store your credit card information for future transactions. While this maybe convenient, it can also be compromised more easily or used without your permission (you already gave it). If you have unknowingly given a retailer permission, you can call and revoke it.
  7. SUSPECT fraud on your credit card or financial account? Close the account and request a new one number.
  8. SPOT suspicious charges quickly by monitoring your credit card transactions with every monthly statement. If there is a transaction you didn’t make, call the credit card number on your card to report it immediately.
  9. LOST or misplaced credit card? Call the credit card issuer and report it immediately.
  10. CLOSE credit cards you no longer use. Call your credit card issuer and ask how to close the card so it doesn’t impact your credit score.

 

 

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