Identity Theft – How to Safeguard Your IdentitySubmitted by Alsworth Capital Management, LLC on March 16th, 2016
It’s something most people don’t think about until it hits the headlines, such as last year when major retailer, Target, revealed that its data base of shopper credit and debit card numbers had been breached. Yet, nearly 15 percent of the population - more than 34 million adults - has reported some form of identity theft, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center. In the first half of 2014 alone, more than 10 million people have experienced identity theft.
About ten years ago I received an email from an outraged buyer on eBay. They stated that they had sent $5,000 to me for a car (wasn't much of a car apparently) and I hadn't responded with instructions for arranging delivery. I had an eBay account that I rarely used so I immediately tried to login to my account. After several failed attempts I assumed I forgot the password and reset my account. Once I successfully logged in, I discovered that, sure enough, I had a listing on my account to sell a junker car for $5,000! I contacted eBay and learned that somebody had hacked into my dormant eBay account and used it to bilk this buyer out of funds. Fortunately, eBay was able to unwind the transaction without any harm to the buyer and my account was closed down. However, I spent the next several months closing down every account I owned and starting fresh, in case this hacker had obtained additional information. It was an eye opening experience!
While there’s little you can do to prevent a major data breach that might expose your sensitive records, there’s plenty you can do to fortify your own records and reduce or eliminate the opportunities for identity thieves to turn your life upside down. Your own vigilance is your first and last line of defense and it can be heightened by incorporating very specific identity theft prevention measures into your daily routines.
- If you suspect any hacking of your email account, such as hearing from friends that they received a strange email from you, immediately change your password.
- As an extra precaution, don’t store emails that contain sensitive information or attachments.
- Be wary of emails from financial institutions, even the ones with which you do business. Double-check the source.
- Never open a link in an email requesting personal information. Legitimate organizations never request personal information through an email. There is absolutely no reason to provide your social security number or credit card number to anyone in an email. Financial institutions and government agencies never ask for it by email.
- Always use the most extensive password you can with a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols. Also, refrain from using the same password on multiple accounts. If you have to, you can use a password generator and vault program to automatically create random passwords and store them, so you only have to remember one password.
- Check your online financial accounts frequently looking for suspicious activity
- Cyber thieves use increasingly sophisticated technology to create malware and viruses that can actually record your keystrokes and find sensitive information on your computer. Always make sure to have the most recent version of your anti-virus software installed.
- Never enter sensitive information on a public computer
Credit and debit card use
- Only carry one credit card at a time and store the others in a secure place such as a safe
- Be vigilant of credit and debit card skimmers – devices that can be disguised as normal readers on ATMs which can capture your card number and PIN.
- Never give your PIN to anyone, and, if you must write it down, store it securely.
- Go paperless. Mail boxes are still sources of valuable information for identity thieves.
- Shred everything except legal documents you need to retain, but store those in a secure place.
Services that can help
I use a service at the website; www.StopTheJunkMail.com. For $20 per year, you can use their website to quickly search for companies that send you unsolicited mail. With a few clicks, the service will mail a form to the provider instructing them to remove your name from their marketing list and stop sending you unsolicited offers. It is a little bit of time up front, but you will be amazed at how quickly and dramatically your mailbox will lighten up. Once you are off of these lists (which get resold over and over) the web of ever expanding junk mail diminishes. Aside from saving time, trees, privacy and annoyance, getting off these lists reduces your exposure to hacking attacks at the various marketing companies.
I have also been a long time subscriber to LifeLock. The company has experienced some difficult litigations in recent years alleging that they have overpromised some of their services. However, I have had a positive experience with the company. They have notified me in the past when my information has been hacked and the source of the leak. They troll around on black market sites to find when someone is selling bits of your information and notifies you of possible issues. I used their services to guide me in securing my credit history and taking the precautions to mitigate the risk of further breaches and found their expertise to be valuable. Whether it is LifeLock or another similar service, this extra consultation and proactive review can be useful, especially if you are in a vulnerable profession such as the medical field, financial or legal field.
I submit a form from the website; www.annualcreditreport.com, asking for my credit report from the three main credit reporting agencies every year. I also send these forms to my clients annually as a scheduled task. Every year one of my clients finds significant errors on their credit reports or finds an account associated with their credit history that they did not open. Keeping these reports accurate and identifying any breaches is an important annual exercise. Much like spring cleaning!
As always, I appreciate your time and welcome questions about your individual situation.
Shane M. Alsworth, MBA, CFP®, CLU®, CIMA®
The views and opinions presented in this article are those of Shane Alsworth
Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Investments are subject to market risks including the potential loss of principal invested. Asset Allocation does not assure or guarantee better performance and cannot eliminate the risk of investment losses. The information contained herein is based on sources and data believed to be reliable, but is not guaranteed by Alsworth Capital Management, LLC and is not to be construed as an offer or a solicitation of an offer to buy or sell securities mentioned herein. It is provided as a courtesy for informational purposes only and is not intended to satisfy any compliance or regulatory conditions set forth by any governing body of the securities industry.