Ah the internet. What did we do before it?! Well, we probably spent more time talking face to face & less time browsing Facebook to see what your old friend from elementary school named their last child, or what happened to their dog when they fed them chocolate. No doubt the internet helps make our life easier in some ways, yet in other ways there are consequences to all this easy information right at “your fingertips,” & the potential for this information to end up in the wrong hands!
Unfortunately, this is a double-edged sword, because as beneficial as it may be to interact with people from around the world, not all of them have genuine intentions. Many on the internet take advantage of this shift to living and working online to steal from others. This has become especially problematic for individuals as well as major businesses.
In just the last year, major U.S. companies including Neiman Marcus, Target and Las Vegas Sands, Sony Entertainment, JP Morgan, Home Depot (and the list goes on) have reported instances of cyber attacks that resulted in the theft of thousands, if not millions, of consumer’s personal information. The reaching effects on consumers & businesses is endless
These data breaches have allowed criminals to get their hands on millions of people’s names, email addresses, phone numbers, Social Security numbers and financial information.
If you’re worried about your personal and financial information falling into the wrong hands, here are a few steps you can take to protect your identity:
- Choose credit over debit: Credit card users are not liable for any fraudulent charges greater than $50, and many banks will provide zero liability protection to waive this fee anyway. For debit cards, though, the charge can jump to $500 if the suspicious behavior isn’t reported within two days.
- Monitor bank & credit report activity: Once a year you can order your credit report for free at FreeCreditReport.com. This report will show what creditors have on file for you. The best way to avoid becoming the latest victim of cyber fraud is to nip it in the bud by diligently monitoring your credit and debit accounts, as well as your bank statements. The sooner you can identify a suspicious charge, the sooner you can report credit fraud and steer clear of any significant damages.
- Reset your debit card PIN number regularly: If you own a debit card, it’s good practice to change your PIN number about once every three months. To best protect from identity theft, never share your PIN with others and avoid numbers that may be easy to guess (e.g. birthdays). Additionally, if you have ever used your debit card when shopping at Neiman Marcus or Target, you should reset your PIN immediately if you haven’t already.
- Don’t give out personal information to unsecure websites. A web page containing “https” in the address or a padlock symbol next to the address field is a secure site, meaning that the information you provide will be encrypted or scrambled, protecting it from hackers.
- Consider identity theft protection– There are several companies that offer identity protection services. These services will not only help you regain your identity in the event of theft, but will help with monitoring, scanning, restoring, & paying for services to restore your identity should you need. Lifelock (lifelock.com) is one of the top identity theft services out there. I personally use Zander Insurance Identity Protection which is endorsed & recommended by Dave Ramsey. http://www.zanderins.com/idtheft/idtheft.aspx
- Shred your documents that have sensitive information: Did you know there is a lot of identity theft that occurs from other people going through your garbage? In fact Jim Stickley, who wrote the book called, “The Truth about Identity Theft,” writes:
“Through the years, I have been amazed at the things you can find in the trash. There is big business for identity thieves in personal garbage. More importantly, once you put your garbage out on the street for trash pickup, it usually becomes open to the public. This means that if I am so inclined, I can take that garbage and bring it home, which is exactly what I did. Each week I would snap on my rubber gloves and go through every item of trash: grocery store shopping lists, sticky notes with phone numbers, a private invitation for a little girl to a friend’s birthday party, and much more. As I continued to go through the managers’ trash, I was able to compile a list of their service providers: water bill, phone bill, gas and electric, cable, and so on. I could use this information not only to gain access into their lives but, if I wanted, to take over their lives.”
If you ever suspect that someone else has unlawfully gotten their hands on your personal or financial information, enlist the help of credit monitoring services, which monitor for certain activity and may help you to weed out certain potentially fraudulent behavior and would-be identity theft from happening in your name. (Parts of this adapted from IdentityGuard.com)