After spending countless years building and protecting yourself and your family, it’s also important to protect your online information and reputation. As the world has moved to a digital marketplace, and over half of Americans over 65 years old are Internet users, (1) how you manage your online activities is critical to avoid falling victim to identity theft and its severe potential consequences.
Identity theft is when someone steals your information to commit fraud. Fraud can come in many shapes and sizes, and can range from stealing your social security number, to opening up credit cards in your name, to swiping your tax refund, among others. Here are some of the most common threats people fall victim to:
- Personal Emergency Scam: a message from someone you know mentioning they are in distress and need money.
- Money Due Scam: claims you owe money, which can even show up as a fake bill.
- Online Dating and Networking Scams: new connections can be secretly attempting to begin a relationship and get money from you.
- Infected Computer Scam: messages that warn you of a virus or a security threat on your computer to gain access to your account details without your knowledge.
It can be incredibly detrimental to your finances, your family and your life if you aren’t mindful in taking the necessary steps to protecting yourself and your information. To avoid the financial consequences and potential to jeopardize your life and reputation, here are 10 simple strategies you can implement to safeguard your important assets: (2)
- Regularly Check Your Accounts: since all of your credit card and bank accounts are likely online, it’s quick and easy to monitor your transactions on a routine basis. Most companies even have a mobile app that you can download to view your bank information on your cell phone - anywhere, any time.
Tip: implement a routine to consistently monitor ALL of your accounts. Depending on your level of oversight, this could be daily, weekly or monthly. If needed, you may consider asking a family member to monitor your accounts on your behalf so you can be confident no suspicious activity is occurring.
- Utilize and Set Up Alerts: sometimes scammers will test out a small transaction on a credit card to make sure it successfully goes through. Don’t ignore a small charge on any bank account that you don’t recognize.
Tip: you can set up automatic notifications, such as a text, email or mobile alert, to flag any suspicious activity.
- Download Free Credit Report: credit scores are critical as a primary indicator of overall financial health. If you have fallen victim to fraud, it can severely affect your credit score without you even knowing it.
Tip: you can download a free credit report each year from each of the three credit-reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, to review for accuracy.
- Create Strong Passwords and Update Regularly: gone are the days you can get by with a password such as “password,” “1234” or even your kids’ or pets’ names. Anything that can easily be figured out or traced back to you has potential risk. It is recommended to create your password as a code or phrase that is at least 8 characters long and includes numbers, upper and lowercase letters and symbols. Don’t forget to update your password regularly to something different.
Tip: keeping track of so many passwords can be overwhelming. There are secure tools available to keep your information safe, but also organized so you can easily reference it, such as LastPass or LogMeOnce.
- Be Conscious of your Online Reputation: be aware of what you share online. The key is to keep personal information private. In other words, your birthday, address, phone number, family names, etc. Although social media sites make it easy to share lots of information, be conscious that in addition to your friends and family members looking at it, it can also be visible to online hackers who can use it against you.
Tip: consider changing your privacy settings on social media to control who can see what. For example, Facebook allows you to change your settings so only friends and their friends can view your posts, rather than the entire universe.
- Understand “Phising”: this is a different kind of fishing than a pole and fish. This is where scammers act like they are your bank or other institution and attempt to gain access to your account log-in information and details. It is generally by sending a link that may look legitimate (and can even include the company name in the web address). They attempt to “phish” for your information.
Tip: instead of clicking on a link, type in a web address like you typically would do to access your account, or call the organization to confirm if in doubt.
- Use Secure Websites: a secure website helps protect the information it captures on the site. In other words, all data on the site is encrypted; if it isn’t secure, then the data is captured as plain text and can be read by any hacker.
Tip: if the URL of a website includes https – then it’s secure (the s indicates so). It it’s just http, then the site is not secure. If the site is not secure or you’re unclear, call the company to understand why it’s not secure and if they have plans to update it accordingly.
- Research Online Causes: crowd-funding sites have grown in popularity and are a great way to raise money for important causes. Although charitable giving is generous and a great way to give back, be mindful to ensure it’s not a scam collecting money for illegitimate causes.
Tip: before donating to a specific cause, read all the fine print and research the person or organization behind the charge to ensure it’s real.
- Don’t Skimp on a Shredder: although most identity theft happens online, it’s also important to safeguard yourself and your family from mail theft. Bank statements or new credit card promotions can include personal information that can be used against you if it ends up in the wrong hands.
Tip: Purchase a shredder for your home and shred any financial documents or other important documents before throwing away.
- Pass Down the Information: if you have children or grandchildren, have a conversation with them about the importance of protecting online information. Ensure they are aware of warning signs (especially credit card offers or debt collection requests). Talk about the importance of credit card reports and areas to be on the lookout for.
Tip: Consider setting up a family meeting with a financial advisor or expert to discuss strategies (such as the above) to protecting online information and reputation. The sooner the better to have this conversation!
If you do find you have fallen victim to identity theft, don’t worry. There are over 60 million other Americans who have also been affected by it. (3) Here are some steps you can take to address the situation:
- Contact the company where the fraud occurred immediately
- Request a fraud alert to be placed on your affected accounts and discuss how the company will resolve it
- Change your online log-in and password at your earliest convenience
If the fraud is severe, you may also consider taking the following additional actions:
- Contact the credit-reporting agencies to correct any false information and ask for a fraud alert or freeze on your account
- Consider reporting it to the Federal Trade Commission at IdentityTheft.gov where you can create an official statement about the crime
- You may consider also filing a report through your local police department
ISU Credit Union offers an amazing ID Theft protection service called Fraud Defender that helps provide safegaurds for all types of fruad situations. You also receive this protection as part of your Rewards Plus Checking account.
The depth and breadth of online resources can be a great tool, but it does come with cybersecurity risks which everyone should be aware of. But don’t feel overwhelmed. As a general rule of thumb, you should simply trust your gut. If something seems suspicious, too good to be true or doesn’t make sense, don’t click it.
If you have any questions or would like to discuss your specific situation, give us a call!