by Susan Sharkey, HSFPP Senior Director
NEFE Nudge: These preventative measures take only a few minutes and greatly lessen the risks of having personal and financial data stolen, compromised or exploited.
Data Breaches Expose Consumer Data
Security breaches in the news serve as a fresh reminders to be vigilant about protecting personal and financial data. While it may be tempting to sigh and resign ourselves to the fact that our personal data is at risk regardless of what we do, there are low-effort actions that can reduce the risk of financial fraud and save the time, hassle and cost of investigating and recovering from identity theft.
In cases of identity theft, someone assumes another person’s identity by stealing personal data. The thief might use that information in a deceptive manner to take on another person’s persona when applying for jobs, acquiring credit, receiving medical care or being questioned by authorities. To go a step further, stolen identities can be used to commit crimes such as making fraudulent purchases, stealing bank funds or compromising account data.
Investing a few minutes in preventative actions can save anxiety, time and financial loss. Take these three steps to add a layer of protection against identity theft:
1. Place a credit freeze with all three credit reporting bureaus.
Placing a credit freeze on your credit history prevents others from accessing the data maintained by a credit reporting bureau (such as Equifax), much like you would lock a drawer to prevent access without a key or passcode. This means that no one can open a credit account by using your personal data, and no company can check your credit history until you lift the freeze. If a fraudster tried to use your personal information to seek credit or conduct business that required a credit check, their actions would appear suspicious because your credit history would be inaccessible.
A credit freeze should be placed with each of the three credit reporting bureaus and can be set up online, by phone or by mail. In most states, there is no fee to apply the freeze, but there is a $10 fee to lift the freeze with a specific bureau when you apply for new credit. It seems a small price to pay for peace of mind. You can activate the credit freeze directly with each bureau, but third-party options are available if you are willing to share your personal data with yet another company in return for additional monitoring options. More details about the freeze process is available at each of the secure credit bureau websites.
||Equifax Security Freeze, P.O. Box 105788, Atlanta, Ga.30348
||Experian Security Freeze, P.O. Box 9554, Allen, Texas 75013
||TransUnion LLC, P.O. Box 2000, Chester, Pa.19016
2. Activate credit alerts on accounts.
Take a few minutes to activate all account activity alert message options on your bank and credit card accounts. Most companies offer a choice to receive alerts by text message, email or phone when account information is changed or unusual activity appears on your account.
Be aware of how you receive legitimate alerts and how to respond. Avoid falling victim to false alerts seeking to entice you to reveal personal data.
3. Change passwords and guard account information.
Do a quality check to confirm that your passwords are strong and different for each account. Establish a routine to periodically change passwords to deter unauthorized use in the event your information is compromised.
Along with periodically changing passwords, occasionally modify your security questions. Pay attention to what personal information is shared on social media, and avoid responding to online just-for-fun personal quizzes that can be a way for others to learn your security question answers.
The number of victims of identity fraud has increased, account takeover activity has grown (up 60 percent from 2015 to 2016), and new account fraud continues to be problematic for consumers, according to the Javelin Strategy and Research 2017 Identity Fraud Study. To learn more about ways to protect against and recover from identity theft and identity fraud, visit your state’s Attorney General’s website or other credible resources, such as these provided by the Federal Trade Commission: Identity Theft website (prevention tips) and IdentityTheft.gov (reporting and recovery guide).
- Educators: Facilitate lessons and discussions about social media habits that put personal information at risk, and feature consumer rights and responsibilities associated with the use of personal and financial data. Explore cybersecurity career opportunities and the growing job opportunities within industry and government.
- Adult Consumers: Routinely check personal credit history to verify accuracy, and place a credit freeze with each of the three credit reporting bureaus.
- Parents and Guardians: Establish house rules about using, protecting and sharing personal information and financial data.
- Everyone: Change and apply strong online account passwords, and request alert notices on accounts.
NEFE’s High School Financial Planning Program includes two lessons that guide teens to protect personal data and respond appropriately to fraud incidents: Module 2 Lesson 2-5: Identity Fraud and Module 5 Lesson 5-3 Financial Fraud.