Cybercrime is among the fastest growing and most lucrative forms of crime today. Cyber criminals use a variety of methods to steal information and trick deceive users into revealing personal information. Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information (Social Security number, account number, etc.) without your permission to commit fraud, theft or other crimes. Sometimes it can take years to clean up the results of such a crime and restore an individual’s personal and financial life. While cyber criminals often use sophisticated tactics, users can significantly reduce the likelihood of victimization by knowing the dangers heeding the 7 common-sense safeguards below.
- Protect your credit cards and credentials.
Don’t carry extra credit cards, your Social Security card, birth certificate or passport. Keep a list of all your credit cards, loans, account numbers and expiration dates in a safe place so you can notify creditors in case of theft or loss. Shred documents with account numbers and other personal information before discarding and consider paperless billing– it’s also environmentally friendly. Be wary of applying for new credit, if the process involves writing down your personal information, including your Social Security number, on a piece of paper someone could take a picture with a phone or throw it away. Instead, inquire about applying online through a secure site.
- Shop carefully, especially online.
Whether you’re shopping on your phone, tablet or desktop computer, double-check that you’re on the correct website or app. Use your credit card, not your debit card. Credit cards come with more protection, offering consumers protection from fraudulent charges, be sure to report any problem within 90 days. Don’t shop or initiate banking transactions on public WiFi unless you are sure that it is secure. Before entering your credit card or account information, check that there is a “lock” symbol on the left side of the URL, which confirms that it is a secure site. Learn more: Stay Safe On Public Public Wi-Fi
- Check the protection offered by your credit card providers and banks.
Many credit card companies offer additional protections from theft and provide alerts and/or guidance if a theft does occur. Newer cards contain embedded computer chips that make it harder for thieves to steal card information. Responsible digital banks offer multi-factor verifications to confirm a customer’s identity, provide a secure online environment to view accounts and make transactions by encrypting information sent to and from the site and provide account alerts for suspicious purchases and account activity. The FDIC insures savings accounts, checking accounts, negotiable orders of withdrawal, money market deposit accounts, CDs, cashier checks and money orders up to $250,000 per owner.
- Review your account statements frequently.
While you might typically wait for your monthly credit card statement to comb through charges, by reviewing more often, if you notice anything suspicious you can report it more quickly. You should also monitor your financial records on a regular basis and request free copies of your credit bureau reports annually from the three national credit-reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. If your data is breached as part of a larger attack on a retailer or company that has your personal details, you’ll want to monitor your credit even more closely. In the case your data or personal information has been stolen, freeze your credit, which prevents anyone from opening up a new line of credit in your name.
- Beware of emails that contain links or unsolicited phone calls.
A common tactic is to send victims an email that appears to be from a legitimate source, like a popular retailer, which contains a link to a fake site designed to collect personal information. If you receive a phone call from a marketer asking for information or someone claiming to be from your bank who wants to check a fraudulent charge, hang up and call the number on the back of your card to be sure that you are speaking to your financial provider and not an impersonator. Never give a credit card number or loan account information over the phone unless you initiated the call and be aware of who is listening when you give personal information over the phone, no matter the location.
- Protect your devices and accounts with strong passwords
Both Apple and Android provide several options for password entry to access their phones. Secure PCs rely on a combination of strong passwords, antivirus software, a firewall and automatic file encryption. While viruses can originate from a variety of sources, they most commonly occur when users download harmful software from untrustworthy sources. Ransomware is a form of sophisticated malware that prevents users from accessing their files and demands payment to restore access. Limit your social media sharing. The security questions on financial accounts often overlap with the information we share on social media, including date of birth, anniversaries, pets’ names and mothers’ maiden names. Use hard-to-guess passwords and increase your privacy controls on Facebook and other accounts. Learn more: Beware What You Share. The best passwords do not use either memorable or dictionary words and instead use a random mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols at least 8 characters in length.
- Watch for skimmers.
Be on the lookout for devices attached to credit card readers, most often found on ATMs or gas pumps. When entering your pin number shield the keyboard from view.
Signs That You May Be A Victim
The majority of identity theft victims don’t know until they’re contacted by a financial institution about suspicious activity. Others discover the crime after finding fraudulent charges on an account. Most victims have no idea how the criminal obtained their information and do not know the offender personally. The sooner you discover that you’ve been the victim of identity theft, the lesser the financial and emotional impact. Be aware of warning signs that someone may have stolen your personal information and is using your identity, so that you can put a stop to the damage quickly. Here are a few clues to look for.
- A notice from the IRS about duplicate tax returns
- Unfamiliar accounts on your credit report
- Unauthorized transactions/withdrawals from your back account
- Receipt of bills for services and/or products you haven’t purchased
- Collection calls concerning debts you know nothing about
- Notification from a company or organization saying your personal information was exposed in a data breach
- Sudden lack of bills or other mail in your mailbox
- Declined credit cards and refused checks when making purchases at stores
First 3 Steps To Resolving Identity Theft
If you suspect that your identity may have been stolen, take the following 3 steps immediately:
- Report the crime to your local police and sheriff departments. A copy of the police report can help you clear up your credit records later on. You may need to provide copies to the creditors.
- Notify the bank or provider of any of the impacted accounts.
- Notify your local post office if you suspect an identity thief has filed a change of address or has used the mail to commit credit or bank fraud. Find out where fraudulent credit cards were sent by contacting the card issuer, and notify the local postmaster for that address to forward all mail in your name to your own address.
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