Don't be a victim. safeguard your personal data with these SIX tips.
Identity theft is when someone steals your personal and financial information in order to commit fraud or other crimes. As society embraces the digital age and technology continues to evolve, identity theft is becoming increasingly common. You've likely noticed an uptick in the number of spam calls, text messages, and emails you receive, for example.
Identity thieves may use your information to do such things as apply for credit cards or loans in your name, file a fraudulent tax return or medical claim; or even claim government pandemic relief funds. Any of these situations can damage your credit and cost you both time and money to rectify.
Know the Warning Signs
Being aware of the warning signs of identity theft can help you to take preventative action and lower your risk exposure. Here's what to look out for:
- A sudden shortage of household bills in the mail could mean your personal data has been compromised. An identity thief might have changed your billing address to keep you from accessing your statements.
- If you're rejected for a loan or credit card but have a solid credit history—or you're approved but at higher interest rates than you expect— that's also a sign you may have been victimized by identity theft. Monitoring your credit can help prevent this.
- If your financial accounts show charges you don't recognize, or you receive overdue payment notices for lines of credit you don't use, that's an indicator that those accounts may have been breached.
- If you filed your tax returns and received a rejection letter from the IRS that references a duplicate return, a tax return could have been fraudulently filed in your name.
- Small "test" charges appear on your credit card statement. It's common practice for identity thieves to "test" that a stolen card is still active by making low-cost purchases of under $5. If the "test" charge is approved, the fraudster knows that the path is clear for larger transactions to be charged.
- If your creditors alert you to suspicious activity on your card, or ask you to verify flagged transactions.
Read this next: How to Protect Yourself from Information Scammers
6 WAYS to Protect Yourself
To ensure your personal data is protected, it's important to build as many effective security barriers as possible. Start the process with these six tips.
- Password-protect your devices. Not having a password on your smartphone or tablet is akin to leaving your home with the door wide open. If the device falls into the wrong hands, your email, financial accounts and other private data stored on the phone will be easily accessible.
- Use a password manager. Using the same password for all of your electronic devices and key financial accounts is a major security risk. If you do, a fraudster only has to figure out a single password to gain access to the rest of your accounts. A good way to stop an identity thief from accessing your data is to mix up your passwords, and use a unique one for every account. Don't include your name in any passwords or your birthday, and change your password anytime you suspect an account has been compromised. To make things easier, you can use a password manager such as LastPass or 1Password to securely store your account information without requiring you to remember all of your login credentials.
- Watch out for phishing attempts. Avoid clicking on any suspicious-looking links in emails or text messages. In a cyber attack called phishing, identity thieves use emails and websites that look like they're coming from your bank, credit card company, mortgage lender or other financial institution to trick you into entering your account information or other private data. These emails may ask you to open an attachment that installs harmful malware on your device. If you suspect a link isn't legitimate, don't click on it, and never type in your username or password on an unfamiliar login screen. Never download an email attachment unless you know what it is.
- Never give out personal information over the phone. Fraudsters sometimes pose as a bank, credit card company employee—or even an IRS agent—over the phone. But any request for you to reveal personal information is a dead giveaway. No legitimate organization will ever call and ask you for personal information—like a bank or credit card PIN number or Social Security number. If you suspect a call is potentially legitimate, ask for the caller's credentials, hang up, and contact the organization using the phone number listed on your financial institution's bank statements. Also, note that the IRS won't contact you by phone out of the blue, and will typically send taxpayer requests and information via postal mail.
- Protect your personal documents. Physical documents can present a security risk if they get into the wrong hands. Avoid leaving mail in your mailbox as they are a frequent target of identity thieves. If you're going out of town, ask a trusted neighbor to pick up your mail or request a mail hold until you get back. You might consider limiting how much sensitive paper mail you receive in the first place by signing up for electronic statements with your financial accounts. Identity thieves may also dig through your trash to get your information. When disposing of physical private records and statements that include any personal and/or financial data, it's a good idea to destroy it. You can also limit your exposure by curbing the number of credit cards you carry in your wallet.
- Regularly check your credit reports. Under U.S. law, a consumer is entitled to one free credit report annually from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Credit reports provide an overview of the activity on the financial accounts in your name, including their last-reported balances. So a good way to spot discrepancies is to check your credit report regularly. If you spot something suspicious. such as an unfamiliar account on your report, you can take action to address it more quickly and stop the situation from getting worse. You can get a free credit report from each of the credit bureaus by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com, or by calling, toll-free, (877) 322-8228. You may also contact the three credit reporting bureaus directly using the contact info below.
Equifax • (888) 298-0045 • www.equifax.com/personal/credit-report-services
Experian • (888) 397-3742 • www.experian.com/help
TransUnion • (833) 395-6938 • www.transunion.com/credit-help
To learn more about how Bank of St. Francisville can help you stay protected, call 225-635-6397 or click here to schedule an appointment. To get more finance tips like these in your inbox, sign up for our monthly e-newsletter here.