- Beth Ann Tabak
Protect yourself against identity theft
In September of 2017, it was reported that Equifax, one of the nation’s three largest credit bureaus, had experienced a severe security breach. The personal data of nearly 150 million Americans was made vulnerable, exposed to hackers and scammers to use as they please.
While the initial sting of the breach has passed, its danger has not. We must all continue to protect our valuable personal information. Here’s how you can secure your personal data.
Monitor your credit and your accounts
Monitoring your financial accounts is the best first step.
To get the total picture of your financial health, review your credit report. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires all three credit reporting agencies to provide you with one free credit report each year. Use this to your advantage; you can see where your credit stands while identifying fraudulent accounts that have been opened with your information and have the chance to report them. If you have 7 17’s Benefits Plus Checking Account, you can use the Benefits Plus service to request your credit reports and set reminders for future review.
You can also watch your accounts in the most basic way, which is regularly reviewing your credit card and banking statements, and checking your accounts via online or mobile banking.
If reviewing your statements isn’t your thing, sign up for text and email alerts. 7 17 offers Visa Purchase Alerts for both your 7 17 Rewards Debit Card and Platinum Rewards Credit Card. Personalize your settings and receive a text, email or both, with each purchase you make. 7 17 also offers free Enfact Fraud Text Alerts for debit cardholders and SecurLOCK Fraud Text Alerts for credit cardholders; both services text message you when a suspected fraudulent purchase is made.
Don’t talk to – or respond to emails from - strangers
That’s right, your parents’ advice still holds. If you did not initiate contact, do not give out your personal information. There are plenty of impersonators that will claim to work for a company that you do business with to obtain your information.
If you receive a suspicious call, hang up immediately. Do not click on unsolicited or suspicious links sent to you by email or text as they could download malware to your device. For extra security on your PC or laptop, consider downloading safety software such as Trusteer, free from 7 17.
Not only do scammers impersonate legitimate businesses, they also impersonate government agencies, such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Scammers also impersonate financial institutions. Please be aware that 7 17 will never call you or send an email or a text message to request your online banking credentials.
Set a strong password
You’ve heard it before: don’t make your password your child’s/partner’s/pet’s/parent’s name and certainly don’t mix it with your birthday/anniversary/address. It’s not new advice but it bears repeating. Use a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. A suggestion from the Federal Trade Commission is to take a memorable phrase, use the first letter from each word to create the password, and substitute numbers or symbols for those letters. For example, “I went to the Atlantic Ocean last year” would become Iw2T@oLY.
Social media is a great way to stay in touch with friends and share information … just not too much information. The obvious advice is to never post your phone number, address and social security number. You might also reconsider using your full name or sharing anything that could be easily used to answer your security or challenge questions on your financial accounts. Consider setting your page to private and only connect with those you know.
Theft can happen offline, too
Because scammers will still sift through your garbage, destroy or shred mail and other documents with personal information, such as receipts, prescription bottle labels and expired bank cards. You might also consider a junk mail reduction service such as the one offered through Benefits Plus. It lets you opt-out of receiving pre-screened credit and loan offers for five years and limits catalogs and brochures.
Freeze your credit
A credit freeze blocks access to your credit report by new creditors or anyone looking to open new credit in your name, which makes it hard for scammers to use your identity. No new account can be opened while the freeze is in place but you can still use your existing credit cards and lines of credit. If you want to open a new line of credit, you have to lift the credit freeze for that period of time.
And, as a result of the Equifax debacle, Congress passed a law earlier this year making credit freezes free for everyone in every state. Free credit freezes went into effect September 21.
You might want to consider freezing your child’s credit, too. Because children’s social security numbers are generally untouched, they make them a prime target for fraudsters.
What if my identity has already been stolen?
Sometimes you can take every step to protect yourself and identity theft still happens. If you are a victim of identity theft, there are several next steps to take, including contacting each of the institutions at which the fraud occurred, changing your PINs and passwords, placing a fraud alert on your account, reviewing your credit report and reporting the theft to both the FTC and local authorities.
If you have a 7 17 Benefits Plus checking account, you have access to Restoration Rescue, a complimentary Identity Theft Restoration Service. Restoration Rescue can provide licensed attorneys specializing in identity theft restoration. With this program, when you grant a limited power of attorney, lawyers will work on your behalf to help recover your identity and loss of funds, assist in filing a police report, and contact all credit bureaus, creditors, financial institutions and more.