Do you keep your many passwords in a computer file labeled “passwords”? Do you type in your mother’s maiden name when asked by a security feature? Do you like to do your online holiday shopping while sipping coffee at Panera? If you answered yes to any of these, it is time to update your habits. As the numbers of identity theft incidents rise, it seems more challenging to combat the crime. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 10% of those 16 or older reported in 2016 that they had been victims of identity theft during the prior 12 months – and that number is growing. The majority of those incidents involved the account takeover of an existing credit card or bank account. Think of the hassle involved in cleaning up after such a personal attack.
While we may not be able to stop this speeding train, there are ways to reduce our vulnerability. To start, make it a priority to review some of these tips to protect you and your family.
Do not give personal information over the phone. If someone claims to be from your doctor's office, for example, and they are asking for personal information, tell the caller you will return the call to your doctor's office at a number you know and trust.
Guard your mail. Pick up your mail promptly after it is delivered. Do not leave outgoing mail in your mailbox. If you are going on vacation, request a vacation hold at your local post office.
Report a change of address. You want your paper trail to follow you when you move. Do not allow it to fall into the wrong hands. Make it a priority to update your address with schools, credit unions and banks, credit card companies, insurance companies and the IRS.
Know your billing cycles. If a credit card statement or other bill does not arrive at its regularly scheduled time, contact the issuer for information.
Review your credit report regularly. This will help you more readily identify suspicious activity. As a member of Hanscom FCU, you can review your credit report for free. Learn more here.
Check your Social Security Administration earnings statement annually. You may find signs of fraud if someone is using your identification to work or make claims.
Set up fraud alerts for your accounts. These alerts will notify you if attempts are made to change your account settings or if an unfamiliar device is accessing your account. Read more about setting up alerts by reading this blog.
Be responsible with important paperwork. File statements that contain personal information, including account numbers, in a secure area. Shred such documents before throwing them away.
Be cautious when allowing strangers into your home. Hire service workers from a reputable company. Consider conducting a background check. This is especially important for the elderly, who are often targeted by thieves.
Use strong passwords. Avoid cliché and predictable passwords. Change your passwords at least every month, and use different passwords for different accounts.
Keep important information off of your computer. It is tempting to make a list of all your passwords in file labeled “passwords,” the kids’ Social Security numbers, and the family birthday list. But if your computer is ever hacked or stolen, this information goes with it.
Be wary of emailed links. Do not click on them. Many scammers use this as a phishing tactic.
Check you banking and credit card statements online daily. It might seem obsessive, but a quick daily check-in with your accounts is the fastest and easiest way to spot a transaction that isn’t yours.
Avoid public Wi-Fi connections and unrecognizable Wi-Fi options. If you must use public Wi-Fi, do not conduct personal business involving sensitive data. This includes shopping and personal banking websites, and any website that requires a log-in and password.
Double-check websites before offering information. Many popular websites have been cloned. Before entering your credit card or other personal information, check the web address to be sure that it is a secure website and the link is spelled correctly.
Limit the amount of information you provide for online forms. When filling out website forms, only provide the required information to reputable and familiar websites. If there is no * indicating “required,” leave it blank.
Think of alternatives to common security questions. When asked for your mother’s maiden name or your pet’s name, be prepared with alternative answers. The less information you put on the Internet, the harder you make it for scammers to steal your information.
Take care when using social media. It is fun to post pictures from your vacation, but you are also posting a notice that you are not home. Wait until you return from your travels before posting your pictures. Other information to protect from social media includes your birth date, the birthdays of family members, the name of your child’s school, and your address. It is also best not to post your pet’s name or your mother’s maiden name, as these are often used for online security questions.
Adjust social media security settings regularly. Facebook and other social media platforms occasionally change their privacy settings. Take time to review your account settings at least once a month, and do not accept friend requests from strangers.
Update your computer. Security patches, anti-virus software, spyware, and firewalls should be installed and updated.
Lock your devices with a password. Close all open programs before turning off your computer or smartphone.
Wipe your devices before getting rid of them. Search online for the best ways to clean your computer, smart phone, or other information-storing devices before you toss or sell them.
Protect your social security number. Many organizations ask for it, but few need it. Ask if you can use an alternate number.
Do not carry your Social Security card with you. Your card should be stored in a secure location.
Only carry what you need. Leave unnecessary credit cards and other identifying information at home. This will limit the damage if you lose your wallet.
Think twice before applying for store cards while in the store. It is tempting to get the extra discount offered at many check-out lines by applying for a credit card. But realize that by filling out a form in the store, you are handing your personal information to a stranger. If you are interested in applying for a store card, consider applying on the company’s secure website.
Avoid suspicious card readers and ATMs. If you suspect that a machine has been tampered with, do not use it.
Cover the keyboard when entering a PIN number. If someone is hovering near you when you enter the PIN, ask them to back up.
Store your information safely. While at work, keep your purse and smartphone in a secure and locked location. Do not leave laptops, phones, or wallets in your car.
Your goal is to protect yourself and those you love from the cost of identity theft. Many of these tips are common sense, but it is helpful to revisit this list often and refresh outdated habits.
Have you reviewed your credit report for accuracy? Hanscom FCU members can access their credit scores and reports at no charge. Take your first step to protecting your identity.