Defend yourself with simple, everyday practices that can help protect your identity, your accounts and your devices.
Americans lose tens of billions of dollars each year to financial fraud. In the digital frontier, many crimes – including identity theft, tax fraud and elder abuse – are committed by online outlaws, making cybersecurity all the more important. As cybercrime becomes more prevalent, learn how to defend yourself with simple, everyday practices that can help protect your identity, your accounts and your devices.
Familiarize yourself with common scams to help protect your assets and your identity. Often, identity thieves pretend to be someone they’re not, whether they’re claiming to be from a legitimate organization, acting as though they are in love or purporting to be someone you trust. The effort is an attempt to induce you to reveal personal information, such as passwords or credit card numbers. Crimes such as these fall under the umbrella of phishing, a popular fraudulent activity.
Never click on the unknown. If you receive an email from a reputable company, go directly to their website. If you receive an unexpected email from someone you know, call them before opening it. Additionally, never reveal your passwords and only use credit card numbers on sites you’re confident are secure. If you have any doubt, refrain from revealing personal information.
Tax season is a notable time to take extra precaution as email compromise and mail theft tend to crop up each year and more than 237,750 tax fraud victims are reported to the IRS annually. Remember that the IRS will never request personal or financial information by email, phone, text message or social media, nor will they threaten you with lawsuits, imprisonment or other enforcement action if you have done nothing wrong. Elect to receive your tax forms online rather than in your mailbox, where they may be at risk of physical theft, and file as soon as possible to decrease the likelihood that someone will maliciously file on your behalf.
By taking small steps toward a safer online presence, you and your loved ones will be less likely to experience a loss of personal information and privacy. There are a number of everyday practices everyone should follow.
- Improve your passwords: Use complex and unique passwords that are different for each account. Include numbers, capital and lowercase letters, and symbols.
- Take it one step further: Turn on two-step authentication for your accounts – a security process in which the user provides two means of identification rather than one.
- Opt for biometric identification: On top of your standard password, consider adding a photo of your face, the sound of your voice or an image of your fingerprint to your protective arsenal.
- Clean up your mess: Keep your electronics free from malware and viruses. Apply updates and patches on computers and mobile devices as soon as possible, and wipe computers and mobile devices of data before selling or disposing of them.
- Use public wireless networks with caution: Avoid visiting sensitive websites or conducting financial transactions on an unsecure network.
- Post prudently: Be mindful of what you’re posting to social media platforms, and avoid sharing personally identifiable information. Check privacy settings to ensure that you are not sharing your profile with people you don’t know.
- Be alert to risks online: Never open attachments or links in suspicious emails or from senders you don’t recognize.
- Secure your information: Keep software up to date and install an antivirus product. Shred sensitive material or store securely in a digital or physical vault.
The Federal Trade Commission reports that 11.7 million people are victims of identity theft each year. Should your information be compromised, these are the actions you should take.
- Contact the Federal Trade Commission: Call to report the issue or access the online complaint form. Visit the FTC’s identity theft website for more information.
- Report the incident: File a police report, and retain a copy as proof.
- Contact creditors’ fraud departments: Close affected accounts and speak with someone in the security or fraud department. Notify credit card companies and banks in writing. Follow up with a letter for affidavit as well as copies of any supporting documents. Order new debit and credit cards.
- Alert credit bureaus: Report the breach to one of the three major credit bureaus and ask for credit monitoring, fraud alerts, credit freezes and copies of your credit reports.
- Keep good records: Notify businesses and agencies by phone and in writing. Log dates, times and the names of people you spoke with as well as what they tell you. Keep copies of any correspondence, and use certified mail, return receipt requested.
- Reset your passwords: Consider using password manager software if needed. Experts blame weak or stolen usernames and passwords for 76% of data breaches.
- Check for additional fraudulent activity: Watch your monthly statements, emails and regular mail, sign into Investor Access, and call your advisor to report suspicious activity.
- Other steps: Contact the Social Security Administration, the Postal Inspection Service or your issuing driver’s license office if your Social Security card, mail or driver’s license has been stolen.
Talk to your advisor about these and other ways you can protect yourself and your accounts. Together, you can explore options like secure file sharing, fraud and consumer preference text alerts, and two-factor authentication.