Nearly 143 million Americans have been placed at risk of identity theft because of the large-scale data breach on Equifax. It is, in fact, the modern age’s reality that identity theft is on the rise, and the game is always changing where malicious parties are often strategizing to find new ways of obtaining data. Sadly, identity theft doesn’t seem like it will go away anytime soon. So, read on for some tips on how to stem the rising tide of identity theft.
Change your passwords every 90 days or sooner. Once hackers obtain your passwords, they can easily access your various accounts – your email, your social media channels, your bank account. To guard against identity theft and against your password being compromised, make a habit of changing it often as a security best practice.
Make sure your computer’s anti-virus software has been updated. Staying current on your anti-virus software prevents your computer from being targeted by malicious parties, like hackers.
On social media, your privacy must be a priority. There is no need to share every detail of your life to the public, lest some of your important personal information slip out. Set your privacy settings to the highest levels in each of your social media accounts, if possible. Guard your personal information – e.g. your exact birthday, your address, your mother’s maiden name, and especially your Social Security Number.
Make sure you are using a secured Wi-Fi. While it seems like a good idea to utilize the free Wi-Fi at Starbucks as you review your online banking statements, don’t do it! That is an avenue for identity theft. Public Wi-Fi can be unsecured, which means that the people around you in that public place are on that same open network, and they can access your information. Instead, wait until you are home before you log into your bank’s website.
Keep your mobile phone secure as well. Leverage the passcode, or even the thumbprint scan and any other authentication processes that your mobile phone has available for you. Remember to turn off your Bluetooth when it is not in use. Also, establish the settings on your phone to enable a remote wipe should your phone ever get lost or purloined.
Beware of phishing scams. Don’t open all your emails, especially those that look particularly strange or sound suspicious. Don’t click on suspicious links, and don’t download suspicious attachments. Those are often phishing scams designed to gather your personal information for fraudulent purposes. Always be on high alert if any emails, links, or attachments ask for personal or financial information.
Guard your children’s information and your parents’ information, too. Both children and senior citizens have recently become targets of identity thieves. Warn your children and your parents that they should not be sharing any information out there, nor clicking on any suspicious emails or links. Get them all in the habit of information security best practices.
Always read the news on any data hacks and breaches. Target store, Yahoo, and Equifax have all been hacked – so have countless others. Keep apprised of any data breaches so that you can take proactive steps to protect yourself and your family.
Be aware of the red flags that signal your personal information has been acquired maliciously. Some of the warning signs include: 1) unauthorized charges suddenly appearing on you accounts, 2) your credit report shows accounts you have not opened, 3) you receive bills on things you haven’t purchased. Research further on what other warning signs indicate that you or your accounts have been compromised. Each social media venue likewise provides information on how to detect a breach or compromise and the next steps they recommend you take to proactively protect yourself.
What are the next proactive steps to take if you discover identity theft has happened. First, notify all your banks and credit card companies of any suspicious charges – both over the phone and in writing. You can even open new accounts at a different bank and transfer money over for some measure of safety. Secondly, place fraud alerts on your credit reports from all three credit bureaus. And, finally, according to the Federal Trade Commission (the agency created to protect United States consumers), “If someone is using your personal information to open new accounts, make purchases, or get a tax refund, report it at IdentityTheft.gov – IdentityTheft.gov will help you create your Identity Theft Report and a personal recovery plan based on your situation.”