Hacking occurs when your personal information is compromised and used to commit fraud online. It’s becoming more prevalent and the “bad actors” are getting craftier about getting around ordinary security systems. While many of us are worried about online identity theft, it's also happening regularly via phone calls. I've heard from multiple clients recently who gave sensitive information to people who called and were impersonating representatives from companies that they use and trust. Please be careful. These crooks are very convincing. Here are some tips to keep your information safe:
Take These Steps Before You’re Hacked
You know the old saying, “the best defense is a good offense.”
- Use strong passwords and different ones for different sites. I know it complicates things. We all have passwords for so many sites. There are password manager apps online that can help. You can also keep a password-protected list of your passwords.
- If someone calls who you are aren't expecting or don't know, don’t give any personal information on the phone. Unless you know the person or are expecting a return call, hang up, look up the phone number and call them back using the phone number that is published on a verified website. It's better to take the additional time to confirm that they are legitimate.
- Set up alerts for unusual account activity. Many financial institutions let you set up an alert (usually a text message or email) when your credit card is used in other states, etc. This can help you quickly flag unusual activity.
- Monitor your credit report. The three major credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax, and Transunion—all allow you to pull your credit report once a year at no cost. Take advantage of this free service, and if you see anything incorrect on the report, follow the necessary steps to correct it.
- Check your financial accounts regularly. You’re more likely to notice a problem if you keep tabs at least monthly, if not more often. And be sure to watch for small transactions. These may indicate a bad actor is testing your account to see if it’s vulnerable.
- Watch for “skimmers.” If you’re at a self-service gas station or other merchant and the card slot seems loose or somehow acts unusual, leave without entering your PIN. These skimmers will capture your account and PIN information, meaning the bad guys have access to everything they need to clear out your account or run up your balances.
- Shred sensitive documents. This one is simple. Don't put sensitive information in the trash without shredding.
- Purchase identity protection. Identity theft protection goes beyond fraud alerts and credit freezes to detect additional forms of identity fraud with existing accounts, or criminal, medical, or Social Security misuse. ID360 is available to you at a substantial discount because of your affiliation with my firm - and my affiliation with Cetera. Visit https://www.id360.com/Cetera to learn more. You can often get identity theft protection from the same companies that provide your car and homeowners insurance as well. Choose protection that goes beyond fraud detection and helps resolve situations that occur.
I’ve Been Compromised. Now What?
Even with the best of precautions, it happens to smart, conscientious people. It's normal to feel violated and even embarrassed, but don't let it stop you from asking for help. Acting quickly is absolutely vital to protect your information and accounts. Here are some steps to take right away:
- Notify your financial institutions and credit issuers. Monitor closely for suspicious account activity.
- Change all of your passwords immediately. This is a vital early step to maintain your security. If the bad actors have compromised one of your accounts, the others are also at risk. It helps to have easy access to your passwords (see #1 above)!
- Consider a credit freeze. Contact at least one of the three major credit bureaus to have your credit frozen. The bureaus talk to one another regarding alerts. If someone tries to open an account, they won’t be able to, and you’ll be notified.
- Social Security Administration recommends filing a report with the FTC. Visit www.identitytheft.gov to learn more.
Please feel free to reach out if you’d like more information. Your security is so very important.