With the New Year and the recent credit card unpleasantness at Target during the holiday shopping season, it is a good time to take a look at identity theft. When was the last time you assessed your identity protection shield? You never know when a criminal is lurking around the corner, either in person or online. Luckily, there are several actions you can take to reduce your risk for identity theft.
First, it is important to understand what exactly happens when a criminal “steals” your identity. He or she gains access to your various financial information, including bank account numbers, credit card information, or social security number, and uses this information to spend money or commit crimes. Purchases can be made with your credit cards or new credit can be taken in your name. Despite these actions not being your fault, you can still be held accountable for a portion or all of the damage the identity thief creates. Many victims of identity theft have spent years trying to clean up their credit reports.
The best way to avoid the headaches and devastation associated with identity theft is to protect your identity. A strong identity shield discourages a thief from misusing your information. What are some things you can do right now to prevent identity theft from ruining your life?
Treat Your Social Security Number as if it is the Key to Your Home
There are many instances in which your social security number is requested, but not needed. Before giving your SSN to anyone, determine how it will be used and what measures will be taken to protect it. Too many people assume sharing their SSN is no big deal, only to regret their actions down the road. And do not be afraid to ask whether it is absolutely required. You would be surprised how many places easily allow you to omit your SSN. The less places you give your SSN to, the less you have to worry about whether they are properly protecting it.
Carefully Monitor Your Credit Report
Keeping an eye on the activity on your credit report can stop fraudulent actions before they are out of control. Request copies on an annual basis from all three major credit reporting bureaus and if something looks unusual, report it immediately. Also monitor your monthly credit card statements. If you spot a fraudulent charge, contact the credit card company to activate their security protocol. It is important to timely spot any unauthorized activity. While you are often protected for charges you did not make, there is usually a limited time period to notify the credit card company.
Understand Phishing scams and Know How to Avoid Them
Have you received odd emails from a bank requesting personal information? Even if the email appears to come from a company with which you have an account, contact the bank directly before sharing information. Remember, scammers can make the email appear authentic and even have the name in the “From” portion mimic a legit establishment, like a bank. Usually, if you look at the actual address, or the site it directs you to, you can see it’s not authentic. But remember, no bank or legit company ever asks for your private information through email.
Another issue is clicking the link. First of all – you don’t want to click links within the email because it could introduce a virus. A typical trick is making the link go to a webpage that looks like a bank login, etc . . . This is easy to duplicate and fools many people.
The best bet is to either call or independently go to your bank’s website. That means typing in the address or using your own bookmarked link. The link in the email can say one place, but be sending you to another.
Invest in a Document Shredder
The more mail and paperwork you shred the better. At minimum, destroy credit card offers, old tax documents, medical reports, and bank statements.
One trick hackers use is finding out a password you use for a site that doesn’t have strong security. It could be a message or forum board or some other retail site that doesn’t have the same level of protection as a bank or financial site. They then find your login info and password. If you use that same password for your email, the hacker can now get into your private email. From here, a hacker can cause all sorts of problems. They can see emails from your online banking and request a change of password. That email will go to your compromised account and the hacker can now get into your bank account and you will be locked out.
Many sites today are adding additional layers of protection, like calling or texting a cell phone, etc . .. Unfortunately, this will likely always be a game of leapfrog with security installing one measure only for hackers to try and break it. Protect yourself and use a different password for your various login accounts. Your email, other login info and financial passwords should be different.
Are you dealing with issues affecting your credit and would like to speak with a qualified bankruptcy expert? Contact the law office of Frank J. LaPerch, PC for more information or to schedule a free consultation.