Financial Education: Identity Theft Safety Tips
We protect our money and our homes from theft. Our identities need protection, too. If someone uses your personal or financial information without your permission, you’re the victim of identity theft, and few things are more frustrating than having to clear your name of fraud. Identify theft, in particular, is notoriously difficult to resolve.
There were 4.8 million identity theft and fraud reports in 2020, up a whopping 45 percent from 2019 – mostly due to the spike in identity theft complaints. The information stolen ranged from names and addresses to credit card numbers and medical insurance account numbers. Victims’ information was used to get new credit cards in their name, steal their tax refunds, and even open a separate phone, electricity, or gas account.
So, what’s a smart consumer to do?
Identity Protection Basics
Sadly, this issue is as old as time. So, before we get into protecting yourself online, remember to keep these old school tips in mind:
- Protect your Social Security number. Don’t carry your Social Security card with you, and only give out the number when necessary.
- Never share personal information, like your birthday or bank account number, when a stranger asks for it unless you fully understand the reason for doing so.
- Always take in your mail. Before leaving town, place a hold on your mail. If you’ll only be away from home for several days, ask a trustworthy friend or neighbor to pick up your mail and hold it for you until you return.
Technology Protection: Safety Tips for Your Devices
Technology is wonderful, but it also provides many ways for users’ identities to be compromised.
- Have you enabled thesecurity features on your mobile phone? If you’re not sure how, contact your provider to have them walk you through the steps.
- Next time you’re working at Starbucks, remember that public wi-fi networks are easier to hack than your private wi-fi at home. Always update sharing andfirewall settings when on a public wi-fi network. Use a virtual private network (VPN) if possible, and be sure the location requires the use of a password.
Computers and tablets:
As every computer is different, you’ll want to do a bit of research to find out what steps are necessary to ensure protection on the devices you use the most. That said, many different steps can limit the likelihood that your personal information will be taken by someone else:
- Install virus-detection softwareand firewalls on your computer.
- Have you changed your passwords since the last data leak or phishing incident that was reported to you? In general, changing passwords and creating complex passwordsreduces your risk of exposure to identity thieves. Change your passwords if there is a breach of a database potentially containing your information, and avoid using the same password for multiple websites and devices.
- How protected are your social media accounts? Email and social media identity theft reports are also on the rise. Review the settings of each account to find out about privacy protection options you may not be using.
Technology changes faster than most people can keep up with. We’ve all uploaded software or operating systems to our devices without being very familiar with them. With so many cyber threats in the world, it’s also helpful to contact the companies that produce the devices and operating systems to make sure you’re using all the safety modes available to you.
Review Financial Statements Promptly
Most of us don’t pay bills the moment they arrive. But that doesn’t have to mean tossing the unopened envelope on the counter until you have the cash to cover it. Keep an eye on all credit card statements, bank statements, and other payment information to make sure the information contained within is legit. It’s a simple way to keep tabs on your account and catch small cases of fraud before they turn into bigger ones.
Manage Personal Finances with Safety in Mind
Scan your account statements to make sure every purchase listed is valid and there aren’t any unauthorized transactions. Shredding credit offers, account statements, and other documents containing sensitive information is another form of protection. And store personal information in a safe place, especially strangers are working in your home.
Take Immediate Action to Resolve Issues
Here’s what immediate action looks like:
- Follow up immediately any time you’re alerted that there has been suspicious activity in one of your accounts.
- If a bill or financial statement is late, contact the sender to find out what caused the delay.
- If you suspect fraudulent activity, consider freezing your credit files temporarily, which will prevent someone from applying for a credit account or utility service in your name.
- Report identity theft to the FTC online or by phone at 877-438-4338.
Finally, take our brief online course, Red Flags of Identity Theft, at CCEA Academy, a new online training solution. You’ll hear excerpts from the BankersEdge course “Pretext Calling and Identity Theft” about security threats posed by identity theft, as well as tips from the FTC’s identity theft prevention program.
Community Currency Exchanges throughout Illinois are great resources for easy-to-use financial services created with your financial safety and data protection in mind. Send us an email or stop by the nearest location to find out more!
With over 350 locations, many open nights, weekends, and holidays (and several stores with 24/7 availability), you can rest easy knowing your financial needs can be taken care of when you need them most. We’re in the heart of every community. Don’t believe us? See for yourself.