By Stephanie Yates
Financial innovation is an incredible thing. It seems that as soon as consumers realize a financial need, a new product is developed to meet that need. Unfortunately, the “bad guys” are just as good at using technology for evil. The results are alarming and lead many experts to argue that at some point, nearly everyone will be a victim. The issue is simply how quickly will you detect and resolve a breach. Given that premise, let’s walk through a few common identity theft issues and how to address them.
According to IBM, more than one billion records containing personally identifiable information were leaked in 2014 alone. Unfortunately, there is little that one can do here except to minimize your exposure. Ideally, we would avoid Internet transactions altogether and use only cash, but that’s probably unrealistic. Just remember that every time you swipe, you are exposing yourself to identity theft. Therefore, before you swipe, ask if that transaction is safe and necessary.
Anti-Virus and Malware Software
Make sure that your computer’s anti-virus program is up-to-date and you avoid phishing scams and other attempts to obtain your personal information. Do not give personal information on unsecure websites.
Also, don’t forget about your paper records. Shred anything that you no longer need—especially if it contains personally identifiable information such as names, addresses, and account numbers. Be absolutely sure to shred those unused balance transfer and cash advance checks.
Use strong passwords that include both upper and lower case letters, special characters, and numerals. Also, as much of a pain as it is, try not to use the same password for every account.
Be careful about transmitting financial information over unsecured Wi-Fi networks. Thieves have been known to drive through neighborhoods seeking unsecured home networks that they can breach. Make sure that your home network is password protected and stay away from your banking app when you are on an unsecured network.
Fraudsters are even monitoring social media in order to piece together your financial profile. To protect yourself, be sure not to share pictures of your latest purchases on social media. If at all possible, keep your social media profile separate from your financial identity. While we live in an age of oversharing, be aware that thieves are always watching. There have been several accounts in the news of celebrities showing off new jewelry only to find themselves robbed of their new treasures.
Medical Identity Theft
A new danger is medical identity theft where thieves access and alter your medical records in order to fraudulently utilize your medical benefits. Unlike identity theft related to credit and banking, most medical identity theft victims are left with a significant liability in order to resolve the crime. To combat this rising crime, be sure to monitor your benefits regularly. Review every benefits statement that you receive. Ensure that all charges are correct and that the amounts are reasonable. Question any charges that are unfamiliar.
Fraudulent tax returns are also a headache for consumers as well as the Internal Revenue Service. In 2014, fraudulent returns cost taxpayers more than $5 million. Scam artists acquire social security numbers and file fraudulent tax returns seeking refunds. Then, when the real taxpayer files a return, it is rejected. The best thing to do is file your tax return early and immediately review any correspondence that you receive from the Internal Revenue Service. Sometimes these scam artists are successful simply because taxpayers avoid dealing with the IRS and therefore don’t even realize that their account has been breached.
Even kids are at risk for identity theft. They are a prime target because they have social security numbers but often don’t use them for as many as 18 years. Young people often don’t realize that they have been victimized until they are in need of benefits such as financial aid for higher education. The best thing you can do is to request a copy of your child’s credit report as an early graduation present.
Identity theft is so prevalent these days that you could do all the right things and still be victimized. In that case, be sure to manage the damage appropriately. Report the breech immediately to the appropriate institutions. Replace any compromised credit or debit cards. Consider “freezing” your credit so that it will be difficult for anyone to open new accounts. Most importantly, monitor your credit regularly—especially after a breach.