Identity theft continues to be one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States. Identity fraud cost Americans a total of about $56 billion last year, with about 49 million consumers falling victim. That’s according to the 2021 Identity Fraud Study by Javelin Strategy & Research released Tuesday. About $13 billion in losses were due to what Javelin calls “traditional identity fraud,” where cybercriminals steal personally identifiable information and use it for their own gains, such as through data breaches (https://www.cnbc.com/2021/03/23/consumers-lost-56-billion-dollars-to-identity-fraud-last-year.html). To help you avoid ending up in a similar situation, we’re sharing some tips that may help prevent this from happening to you.
Don’t share your secrets.
Don’t provide your Social Security number or account information to anyone who contacts you online or over the phone. Protect your PINs and passwords and do not share them with anyone. Use a combination of letters and numbers for your passwords and change them periodically. Do not reveal sensitive or personal information on social networking sites.
Shred sensitive papers.
Shred receipts, bank statements, medical records and unused credit card offers before throwing them away.
Keep an eye out for missing mail.
Fraudsters look for monthly bank or credit card statements or other mail containing your financial information. Consider enrolling in online banking to reduce the likelihood of paper statements being stolen. Also, don’t mail bills from your own mailbox with the flag up.
Use online banking to protect yourself.
Monitor your financial accounts regularly for fraudulent transactions. Sign up for text or email alerts from your bank for certain types of transactions, such as online purchases or transactions of more than $500.
Monitor your credit report.
Order a free copy of your credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com. Residents of GA are entitled to two free reports each year from each of the three main credit reporting agencies. This website does not charge to provide your credit reports, unlike some other sites that offer credit monitoring for a fee.
Protect your computer.
Make sure the virus protection software on your computer is active and up to date. When conducting business online, make sure your browser’s padlock or key icon is active. Also look for an “s” after the “http” to be sure the website is secure.
Protect your mobile device.
Use the passcode lock on your smartphone and other devices. This will make it more difficult for thieves to access your information if your device is lost or stolen. Before you donate, sell or trade your mobile device, be sure to wipe it using specialized software or the manufacturer’s recommended technique. Some software allows you to wipe your device remotely if it is lost or stolen. Use caution when downloading apps, as they may contain malware and avoid opening links and attachments – especially for senders you don’t know.
Be careful when answering social media quizzes.
You can find all sorts of “fun” quizzes on social media but be careful when playing along. Many of the questions asked in these quizzes are exactly the same as the security questions asked when setting up bank or credit card accounts online. While it might be fun to reminisce about the name of your first grade teacher, remember that you could be handing highly valuable information to someone with less than honorable intentions.
Report any questionable or suspicious activity to your bank or credit card company immediately.
If you suspect something is amiss with one of your accounts, don’t wait for your next statement to arrive to find out for sure. Call the bank or credit card company (using the number from the back of your card or from their website) to discuss your concerns. If something untoward is going on, the sooner they’re aware of it, the sooner it can be resolved.