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Worried About Identity Theft?

Worried About Identity Theft?

Protect yourself with these simple tips

Received a suspicious email lately asking you to verify your account information?  Perhaps you heard on the news this morning about a new cyber scam? It seems that everywhere you look these days, someone is out to steal your personal information to make a buck.  

What is the best way to protect yourself from cyber thieves and identity theft?  We've compiled some of the best tips from our favorite online financial websites.  Read on to learn how you can defend yourself and your finances.

  1. Change your passwords frequently and use strong passwords.  While it seems easiest to use your birthday or your family pet's name as your password on all of your online accounts, in reality, you are only making it easier for cyber thieves to pretend to be you.  Utilize a password storage option like 1Password or LastPass to store all your passwords across your computer and mobile devices.  These apps will also generate a random password for you when you're logging in to a new account.
  2. Remember that cybersecurity isn't just for your desktop computer. Don't forget that security measures need to extend beyond your desktop computer.  If you own a smartphone or tablet, activities on these devices need to follow the same guidelines you would use on your desktop computer.  In addition, be sure to keep track of your device at all times to avoid access by hackers and disable all remote connectivity (like Bluetooth) when you're not using it.  
  3. Update your software. If the vendor releases updates for the software operating your device, install them as soon as possible. Installing them will prevent attackers from being able to take advantage of known problems or vulnerabilities. 
  4. Be cautious of public WiFi networks. Before you connect to any public wireless hotspot - like on an airplane or in an airport, hotel, train/bus station or cafe
    • Be sure to confirm the name of the network and exact login procedures with appropriate staff to ensure that the network is legitimate.
    • Do not conduct sensitive activities, such as online shopping, banking, or sensitive work, using a public wireless network.
    • Only use sites that begin with 'https://' when online shopping or banking. Using your mobile network connection is generally more secure than using a public wireless network.
  5. Protect your Social Security number.  Your social security number is often the key that allows someone to steal your identity.  Protect this number and only share it when necessary, like on your tax forms or for medical/insurance purposes.  NEVER share your social security number (or bank account number or credit card number) with someone who asks for it over the phone or Internet.  Trustworthy companies would never ask you to provide personal or sensitive information without first signing into your account behind a secure firewall. The IRS in particular will never communicate or request personal information via unsolicited email.  Is your social security card still in your wallet?  Make sure you don't carry it with your drivers license and keep it in a safe place. 
  6. Buy a shredder - and use it!  Shred everything that could possibly be used to steal your identity, including credit card statements (once you reconcile your statement with your credit card balance), bank statements, and household bills.  Have a receipt from the grocery store that may list your entire debit or credit card number?  Be sure to shred those too!  When in doubt, shred!  Just think of how happy the recycling folks will be - you've saved them a step
  7. Be smart when shopping online.  If you're shopping online, be sure you're using a secure site.  Look for the Trust-e symbol or a Better Business Bureau online seal. These indicate the seller has been independently audited and deemed trustworthy.
  8. Monitor your credit report.  You are entitled to one free credit report per year, so take advantage of it.  This report is compiled from the three major credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.  Check it carefully for any errors and report any fraud to the credit bureaus so that they can put a security freeze on your files.  Visit http://www.annualcreditreport.com to download your free credit report. 
  9. Limit your credit cards.  Sometimes, it is just too easy to grab a store credit card or a credit card with a 0% transfer balance, but adding another card is also adding another way for cyber thieves to steal your identity and your money.  Limit the pre-screened credit card offers you receive by visiting http://www.optoutprescreen.com and close out any unused credit cards that are paid off.  This will further limit your exposure to identity theft.

What if your identity has been stolen?

Put a hold on bank and credit accounts, change commonly used passwords, and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Providing the FTC with an overview of what information has been compromised allows them to build a case for any wrongdoing. The FTC cannot get back any money lost, but they can help safeguard against further fraudulent activity and conduct an investigation.  If you think a fraudulent tax return has been filed with your SSN or you may be at risk due to such events as a lost or stolen purse or wallet, questionable credit card activity, or credit report, contact the IRS Identity Protection Unit at 1-800-908-4490.
Information compiled from the following:
  1. Arthur, Dani, 15 Must-Know Tips for Protecting Your Identity, http://www.bankrate.com/brm/news/cc/20020612a.asp
  2. Greene-Lewis, Lisa, 6 Tips to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft, http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/my-money/2012/12/18/6-tips-to-protect-yourself-from-identity-theft
  3. Ulzheimer, John, Don't You Dare Pay for These 3 Credit Services - They're Already Free, https://www.mint.com/blog/how-to/dont-you-dare-pay-for-these-3-credit-services-theyre-already-free/
  4. United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), Cybersecurity for Electronic Devices, https://www.us-cert.gov/ncas/tips/ST05-017
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