Financial Topics & Tips
4 Steps to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
There are few certainties in life. Of course you’ve heard of death and taxes being two, but there is now a third: It’s only a matter of time before you are a victim of identity theft in some way. We hear of breaches almost daily now. There are over 1 billion records that contain some type of personally identifiable information on the black market. It’s highly likely that your sensitive information has been stolen at some point; be it your email address, your credit card number, your social security number, or your healthcare information. So a little effort to protect it can go a long way.
1. Consider a “junk” email address. There isn’t much you can do to protect your email address other than just don’t give it out. However, in this day and age, that is not realistic. Consider having multiple ones to limit the amount of spam you get and the chances your real one may be stolen. Use the alternate one for signing up for mailing lists, ordering products online, etc. Essentially it becomes an incoming only address and if it gets taken as part of a breach, the odds of your friends getting spammed or sent malicious emails is much lower. That’s because their addresses won’t likely be in your address book. If you never use it to email them, they won’t even recognize it as yours and will be less likely to open a malicious attachment or open a link if it is sent from your “junk” address.
2. Monitor your credit card statements regularly. Take some time each month, or even more often to check your credit card statements. When you get a notification that your statement is ready, take a look at it and if anything looks suspicious report it to your financial institution. The sooner you deal with it, the easier it is to take care of it. Remember that if someone charges to your debit card, that money is at least temporarily out of your account. The bank will take some time to investigate and before putting that back into your account, so use the credit option when possible. At least you will have some time before the bill is due and hopefully, all the fraudulent charges will be removed by then.
3. Monitor your credit reports. Everyone in the United States with credit of any level is entitled to one free annual credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus; TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. You can get them all at one time, but Jim Stickley of Stickley on Security recommends requesting one every four months to keep better tabs on what is on them. The bureaus share information, but something may show up on one before the others. If you see it sooner, you can react quicker and it will potentially cause less damage. This won’t keep your identity from being stolen, but it may keep it from being abused as much. Remember that credit reports are not perfect either. Sometimes the information on them is merely a mistake and those should be addressed too. However, if it is potentially identity theft, finding out sooner is much better. Don’t forget to check those of your minor children. Identity theft of children occurs much more frequently than it should. Roughly one in 40 children is a victim of this, so request theirs too, just to make sure they are A-OK.
4. Read your benefit statements from your healthcare companies. These come after you have used your insurance for a healthcare service. Review them to make sure the information being provided to your insurer is correct and the procedures or products were indeed for you or your family members. If someone is using your information, especially as records switch from paper to electronic formats, their healthcare information may be erroneously used to provide you care. It is possible that you could be cancelled or denied a procedure if someone else has abused your insurance and you didn't catch it. In addition, someone may get an expensive procedure and stick you with the bill. Don’t toss those statements away. Review them and report any misinformation to your insurer.
It’s easy to get complacent, but you shouldn’t. Unfortunately, complacency is another danger of hearing about breaches and fraud so often. However, while you cannot necessarily avoid having your information stolen, other than by going completely off the grid, you can take steps to mitigate it and when needed, mange it better.
Reprinted with permission. © Copyright 2016 Stickley on Security. October 21, 2016