ID Theft and Fraud Continue to Grow – Here’s How to Prevent It
We’ve all heard about the horrors of identity theft, though most of us still do little to prevent it. Perhaps this is because most of us assume that it could only happen to someone else – despite the risk of potentially losing bank account, credit card and even social security data. Given the alarming rise in security breaches and hacks, here are some useful tips to prevent identity theft and fraud. If you have more specific questions about how to protect your financial information, an Envision Bank team member is always available to speak with you and review personal information security tips.
Protect your Social Security Number
For most of us, our Social Security number was the first form of identification we received. These nine-digit numbers serve as our identity fingerprints for the rest of our lives, a unique code used by businesses and the government to identify us. Not surprisingly, Social Security numbers provide scammers with the information they need to defraund.
The fact that our SSNs are communicated so frequently as our personal identity numbers makes us all quite vulnerable to malicious fraud. Still, there are steps we can take to reduce this visibility. First, never carry your Social Security card in your wallet or purse. A stolen wallet, purse, or backpack with a Social Security card in it provides much easier access to other personal data. Most of us know the number by heart so there is no reason to carry the hard copy. Always store your card, and other valuable information, in a safe and secure location.
Second, avoid giving out your SSN unless absolutely necessary. Unlike in the past, most companies today request only the last four digits. Regardless, make sure you know exactly to whom you are entrusting your Social Security number.
Ignore Unsolicited Requests for Personal Information
It may seem obvious until it’s too late, but make it a rule to never give out your personal information unless you are absolutely sure who is asking for it. Frauds and scams have become part of our daily lives, whether via phone calls, texts, emails, or mail. Each form is designed to look legitimate, like a bill, credit agency, or bank. If you are in any way uncomfortable with the conversation, terminate the call immediately.
When you are reading your email, never open a link that looks suspicious, even if it comes from a familiar address. The practice of luring people to click on a malicious link (called phishing), is one of the most common methods used by scammers looking to defraud you or gain access to your computer’s hard drive. If you receive an email that seems suspicious, even from a known source, call the sender or send a separate, direct email to the address you have in your contacts to ask whether he or she sent you a link. At Envision Bank, we always remind our customer that we will never call them asking for their account number, a username, password, or PIN. No financial institution would do that.
Beware: Mail Fraud Still Exists
In the era of email, cellphones, and text messages, it’s easy to overlook our traditional mail as a vulnerable asset to identity thieves. In fact, paper records remain among the most common source of identity theft and fraud. While high-tech thieves can steal our information on a massive scale, there are plenty of analog thieves looking through our mail to locate our credit card data or Social Security information. Fraudsters manipulate tax information, credit card bills, and even credit card offers to open an account (or accounts!) in your name and begin capturing your identity.
The best way to defeat mail fraud, considered a felony since 1872, is to remain vigilant about your mail by collecting it as soon as possible or adding a lock to your mailbox. When you know your billing cycles, you can tell whether an important bill has not arrived and then notify the utility in question. Getting a jump on potential identity theft can pay huge dividends. And, of course, always review your bills and credit card statements carefully, especially after traveling.
In addition, place a hold on your mail delivery when leaving town because this is an especially critical time for door-to-door thieves to access your bills, statements, and other information. Rare is the neighborhood that has not been cased by identity and house thieves on a regular basis.
Of course, one of the easiest ways to avoid mail fraud is to convert to e-billing with your various service providers whenever possible. Your bank can show you how to set up E-statements to eliminate the risk of your bank account information being found in the mail. At Envision, many of our customers’ bills can be delivered electronically directly through our online banking service. Check with your bank to see if they offer this service. It is a convenient way to have as much of your information coming into one safe and secure spot.
Keep Your Firewalls and Virus-Detection Software Up to Date
Computers are essentially portals for information, and nobody is immune to hackers trying to infiltrate their systems to access vulnerable information. Given the convenience of public Wi-Fi, it’s easy to forget that computers, laptops, and tablets are even more vulnerable in public spaces than in the privacy of our homes. Make sure your firewall and sharing settings are at their most secure when surfing the Internet in public. You can also forgo public Wi-Fi altogether by purchasing a portable private router to be used in public.
Gone are the days when a favorite pet’s name could double as a password. The more complex your password, the harder it is for cyber-thieves to decode it and gain access to your vulnerable information. It is also critical to be every bit as vigilant with your mobile apps. It’s best to change your password frequently if you use your phone for banking and other personal transactions. If you need to write down your passwords, make sure they are either stored on a password protected application, or stored safely in a locked location. If you have questions about how to update your passwords with your various service providers there are usually clear instructions on their website or a customer service representative should be able to help you.
Review Your Credit Report Regularly
Your credit report counts as a log of your transactions. Use it as a tool to inspect your billing to make sure no unauthorized accounts appear in your name. There are many applications out there that you can download from your favorite App store that can help you track your credit report monthly.
At Envision Bank we take identity protection seriously and regularly share tips with our community via social media or on our website. If you want to learn more about ways to protect your identity visit our Protect Yourself Page on our website.