Identity Theft: Reduce the Risk
The world of technology has opened up so many positive opportunities. But with that comes the need for even greater responsibility when it comes to personal information. In this day and age, the question of 'will I ever be a victim of identity theft?' has shifted to 'When?' Unless you completely remove yourself from the financial grid (pretty much impossible) you are at risk. That statement isn't intended to scare you, though I'm sure it does cause a sense of uneasiness, but it is intended to encourage you to be diligent when it comes to online activity and financial transactions.
According to Pete Dunn (Pete the Planner), "Daily usage crimes are the result of indiscriminate swiping and prying eyes. For example, a server in a Central Indiana restaurant was just charged with stealing credit card information from unsuspecting diners. Every swipe of a card brings a degree of risk. When your numbers are transmitted at the terminal, there’s a chance they will be hijacked, stolen or retained. The more swipes, the more risk."
On top of that, we need to be aware of identity theft at the root level, which involves someone stealing your identifying information, such as your Social Security number and date of birth, and creating a new credit line.
So what can you do to reduce the risk?
1. Freeze your credit. No ifs, ands or buts.
(Note for Buyers: If you are in the middle of a loan or underwriting process, you'll need to have your credit open - but once you're through that process, refreeze your credit.)
2. Don’t use your plastic in shady-looking places, especially your debit cards. This includes shady ATMs, too.
3. Be protective of your identifying information. This means not opening new credit lines that you don’t really need, such as store credit cards. The more people who have your data, the more at risk you will find yourself.
4. Consider using a credit card when traveling, especially abroad. Lower your balance to a reasonable level to make sure your spending doesn’t get out of hand.
5. Use cash. You can’t spend more of it than you have, and you can’t compromise your identity through its use.
Additionally, to combat identity theft at the root level, we all need to be diligent about the type of information we are sharing online. That means social media site like Facebook and Twitter, on blog posts, when filling out surveys, or signing up for coupon deals, etc.
You should also be careful WHERE you are accessing personal information. Wifi is very convenient as you are out and about, stopping by Starbucks, waiting in line at the grocery store, or while you're at the mall or gym. It's safer to refrain from checking your bank statement in these scenarios, when you are connected to public Wifi, and wait until you're at home.
Nancy Anderson with Forbes also encourages that we monitor our accounts on a regular basis, and simplify our financial information.
"When you have multiple accounts and can fan out your credit cards like a deck of playing cards, it’s a challenge to stay on top of things. Consider paring down your accounts in order to better stay on top of them," says Anderson.
There are also credit monitoring sites that you can utilize, for free, to help you be mindful about unusual activity. Anderson suggests www.annualcreditreport.com.
Bottom line -- BE DILIGENT. If you do think you've been compromised, report it right away.
You should also familiarize yourself with 'next steps' which can be accessed through the State of Indiana ID Theft Victim Guide here, http://www.in.gov/attorneygeneral/2873.htm.
Sources: Pete the Planner, IndyStar - http://www.indystar.com/story/money/2015/06/12/pete-planner-tips-reduce-risk-identity-theft/28697223/
Nancy Anderson, Forbes - http://www.forbes.com/sites/nancyanderson/2015/06/13/7-things-you-can-do-to-ward-off-identity-theft/4/