With the many advantages of modern technology comes risk — specifically, the opportunity for private information to fall into the wrong hands. With thieves targeting companies and individuals, here are things you can do to protect yourself and recover faster.
THINGS YOU CAN DO TO PROTECT YOURSELF:
- Beware of scammers trying to use your own data against you.
- When you get news that a company you do business with was breached, check with their customer relations department to see if your data is at risk. They may not tell you it was (they may not even know), but they should be able say if your data is not at risk and may offer incentives and protections (like free credit monitoring).
- Keep computers, tablets, and smartphones updated with the latest security patches and scan them regularly for viruses and malware.
- Use strong passwords on all financial dealings over the internet.
- Use different user names and passwords for each vendor for your web-based financial dealings.
- Secure your smart phone with 6-character alphanumeric codes.
- Refrain from saving your credit card info on shopping sites (or use a separate, low-limit card).
- Refrain from using unsecured WiFi to conduct shopping, online banking, or anything else business, financial or medical related.
- Check your account statements (bank, credit card, brokerage, etc.) monthly for adverse action (i.e., anything you didn’t do). Take immediate action with those businesses and save/document everything for future use.
- Review your credit report at least annually to see if new credit applications have been filed on your behalf. If you find any, contact the credit bureaus to get them removed. The reasons for this are:
- to attempt to preserve a good credit rating so you can continue to get credit when you want it,
- to build a case of repeated abuse should you want to try to change your social security number.
FOR ADDITIONAL PROTECTION, HERE ARE SOME IDEAS:
- Change your account numbers with banks, brokerages, etc. whenever you experience something related to your accounts that could put them at risk (from stolen mail to a lost card to suspicious activity on the account to a data breach that may have exposed account info).
- Surf the web privately using a VPN or a browser that protects your info like DuckDuckGo.
- Delete your (unused) on-line accounts. You probably have more online accounts than you realize – most of us do. We sign up for all sorts of services, from Netflix and Amazon to Groupon and Twitter. Even if you haven’t downloaded an app in years, Apple, Facebook or Google still possesses a lot of private information, along with so many other virtual services. If you want to minimize (or eliminate) your Internet presence, consider eliminating these accounts, especially the ones you don’t use anymore. Start with Account Killer, a website that provides direct links to most popular accounts and instructions how to wipe the slate clean.
- Limit businesses and agencies you do business with from using your SSN simply identify you. Many schools, doctors’ offices and hospitals, and other service providers routinely use SSN as your student or customer ID number simply because it’s convenient for them. Ask if they are required to have your SSN for tax reporting, and if not, most can and will use a different number if you insist.
- Place a security freeze on your credit report data with all three major credit reporting agencies.
- Smart phones are a key access point for identity thieves because the apps that make things so convenient; from getting a ride (Uber), to sharing costs with friends & family (Venmo), to online banking, to verifying yourself to service providers. And those phone numbers; most of us will replace a credit card or change bank account numbers at the first sign of trouble but not our phone number – those we keep through the years, phone upgrades, and carrier changes. Smart phone users should consider several “safe use” practices including:
- Six-digit screen access at a minimum (mentioned earlier).
- Use caution (or outright avoid) exposure to virus and malware sources, such as plugging into a public USB jack for a quick charge, downloading fee apps, or leaving Bluetooth on.
- Install the latest software updates.
- Avoid logging into sensitive accounts when using public Wi-Fi. If you need to complete a financial transaction or buy something, use cell data or secure Wi-Fi only.
- Beware of strangers: look around before typing your screen unlock code or app passwords, don’t unlock your phone and simply hand it over to a stranger who “needs to make a call.”
- Consider signing up for credit monitoring and identity theft protection services. Much of what these companies do you can do yourself but it may be easier to pay someone else to do it. Many companies offer such services, and discount rates are sometimes available through financial institutions or other groups, and free service is sometimes offered by companies after your data is put at risk by a breach at their company.
- Keep “an ID theft file” should you need information to recover from identity theft should you become a victim in the future, including copies of the contents of your wallet (front and back of drivers license, credit cards, club membership cards, etc.) credit reports, security freeze documents and passwords, copies of annual privacy notices, security breach notices, and potential ID theft evidence such as mail to your address in someone else’s name, charges on accounts you are disputing, etc.
- Minimize the financial activity done using your name and social security number by using a business or trust (with its own taxpayer identification number or TIN) for as much of your financial affairs as is practical for you and your situation.
- Change your social security number (see this information about that difficult process) if you have been a victim of identity theft and have exhausted all other avenues to resolve on-going chaos.