Friday, December 10, 2021
December is National Identify Theft Prevention and Awareness Month and serves as a good reminder of the ways to protect our sensitive information all year long. Identity theft is when someone uses your personal or financial information without your permission. By gaining access to your name and address, social security number, or usernames and passwords, scammers can open credit cards and other lines of credit, access bank accounts, steal your tax refund, apply for unemployment resources in your name and even use your health insurance for medical services. Scammers tend toward the path of least resistance, so putting a few simple protections and healthy habits in place can go a long way toward preventing you from becoming a victim.
Check your credit reports regularly: Go to www.annualcreditreport.com and check for accounts that you don’t recognize. Traditionally you are allowed one free check per year with each of the reporting bureaus (Experian, Transunion and Equifax). However, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, through April 2022 one may check their credit reports weekly with each bureau.
Healthy Habits: Review one report every four months, rotating through the three reporting bureaus. This will allow you to check in three times per year on what accounts are open in your name while still using each agency only once per year. You may also freeze your credit (and your minor children’s) with each of the bureaus if you do not intend to take a loan or open a credit line in the near future. Credit freezes can be done online with each of the bureaus, are easy to undo when needed and will prevent the fraudster’s attempt to use your credit.
Safeguard your mail: Scammers will steal mail to access financial statements, checks and new credit cards. They will use this information to rack up charges and even open new accounts you never know of, until it is too late.
Healthy Habits: Enroll in eStatements to receive account statements electronically. Use electronic bill pay or other online payment methods rather than paper checks. To prevent your sent mail from being stolen, bring it into the post office rather than using the blue collection box or your home mailbox with the flag up. We also recommend that you sign up for delivery notification, which will serve two purposes. The first is that you will know when a sensitive piece of mail is on the way. The second (and maybe more important) reason is that only one person may register per address, so by enrolling you are preventing the fraudster from signing up in your name and therefore knowing when your sensitive mail is due to arrive.
Safeguard your online presence: Scammers will monitor your social media for years, pulling bits of information that may seem trivial but over time may allow them to build a file on you. For example: Do you use your pet’s name, car model or mother’s maiden name as a password verification hint? Now think about how easy it is to monitor your online presence to learn those answers.
Healthy Habits: Do not click or open unexpected links or attachments, even from someone you know. Avoid public Wi-Fi for any site you log into i.e., banking, online shopping, etc. Do not accept friend requests unless you are certain of whom it is. Avoid those Facebook games that ask a few questions to “learn” what character of a favorite show you are, as they often ask questions that are commonly used as password hints or verification questions. If using peer-to-peer (P2P) payment apps, privatize your transactions. If you receive an unusual request from someone you know, double-check their profile, or reach out to them personally to confirm the request is legitimate. Do not give your username and password to anyone, ever.
Keep your computers and phones up to date: The ability to use computers and phones for everything from reading the morning paper to paying the mortgage is a convenience, but because there is so much personal information now stored on our devices, scammers will try to take advantage of outdated devices and security systems.
Healthy Habits: Make sure to download recommended updates and patches for your devices and operating systems. Use antivirus software and firewalls and take advantage of automatic updating. Choose strong passwords and make sure they are different from passwords that you use for other sites or devices. Consider using two-factor or fingerprint authentication and getting a PIN for your phone account.
Practicing these simple habits will go a long way in protecting your accounts and good credit from fraudsters.