In the modern world, your identity is a prime target for criminals. Some of today’s would-be identity thieves use sophisticated computer tools, while many are more modern versions of old-fashioned con artists. No matter what their methods, these scammers share common goals. Cyber-criminals want to empty your bank account, max out your credit cards, and use your identity for their nefarious purposes. Taking a few simple steps and remaining vigilant can prevent many identity theft crimes.
The term identity theft encompasses several different kinds of crimes. One kind of identity theft is “account takeover.” In this kind of crime, thieves will attempt to access your existing bank, brokerage, or credit card account and steal money from it. When your bank or credit card company notices suspicious activity, they may disable your account. The thieves may use your personal information to convince your bank or credit card company that the transactions are genuine.
The second kind of identity theft is impersonation. Cyber-criminals who gain access to your personal information can use it to open new credit accounts in your name. Because these are new accounts, you may not even know they exist until you notice them on your credit report or bill collectors start calling. In some cases, a bank you do not use may call to verify an account application. If this happens to you, it could be a warning sign that you are the target of a cyber-criminal.
Protect Your Identity Online and Offline
Protect your accounts by using strong passwords. The best passwords are random, but these can be hard to remember. If you have trouble keeping track of your passwords, tools like LastPass can help you keep your passwords safe and secure.
If you have social media accounts like Twitter or Facebook, review your privacy settings and be careful what you share. Anything that you share publicly could be used to impersonate you. Don’t create a password using names, places, pets, or dates that could be guessed from your social media accounts.
Be wary of impersonators! If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from a bank, credit card company, or government agency, use caution. Don’t give out personal information over the phone unless you are completely sure of who you are talking to.
Check Your Credit Report Regularly
The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires the major credit bureaus to give you a free copy of your credit report every 12 months. Be careful when obtaining your credit report online. Many fake websites will try to charge you for a credit report or, worse, will sell your personal information. To get your free annual credit report, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website at www.FTC.gov. If you find fraudulent transactions on your credit reports, promptly contest them in writing with the credit bureaus.
The threat of identity theft and cyber-crimes will only continue to grow. Taking some simple steps to protect your personal information can help deter would-be cybercriminals. Be careful when posting online, be skeptical of unsolicited phone calls, use strong passwords, and keep them secret. Your financial health could depend on it!
Matthew A Treskovich | CFA, CPA/PFS, CITP, CMA, CFP®, AEP®, MBA, CLU, ChFC
Chief Investment Officer