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Make it Harder for Fraudsters to Use Your Personal Information

posted on Tuesday, August 7, 2018 in Security & Fraud Information

It seems as though data breaches affecting millions of Americans are constantly in the news these days. If this makes you anxious about the safety of your personal information, that’s understandable.

You can protect your data by using secure internet connections rather than public Wi-Fi when you’re providing sensitive information such as financial account numbers online, keeping your computer and mobile device safe against malware that may be lurking in email attachments, pop-ups and banner ads, downloading apps and other programs only from trusted sources, and being wary of anyone who contacts you unexpectedly asking for it. You can also use the security settings on social media sites to restrict who can see your posts.

In the offline world, you can reduce the possibility of identity theft and fraud by sending bill payments from public mailboxes rather than from the mailbox in front of your house and collecting your mail promptly, shredding documents that contain account numbers and other personal information when they’re no longer needed and not carrying your Social Security card around with you.

Here are some simple steps that you can take, however, to make it harder for fraudsters to use your personal information if they get ahold of it.

  • Create separate and c0mplic@t3d passwords.  Sure, it’s convenient to use the same password for everything. Crooks know that, so if they get your password for one account, they’ll try it to log into accounts on other websites. Any account that has your financial information, Social Security number or other sensitive data should have a unique, strong password to keep would-be intruders guessing. Avoid birthdays, pet names and simple passwords like 12345. It is also important to change passwords at least three times a year. Because friendly theft – theft by someone the victim knows – is the most common type of identity theft or fraud, don’t share your passwords with family members and be mindful of who has access to your personal information.
  • Keep tabs on your accounts. Check account activity and online statements often, instead of waiting for the monthly statement. You are the first line of defense because you know right away if a transaction is fraudulent. If you notice unusual or unauthorized activity, notify your bank right away. For consumer accounts, when a customer reports an unauthorized transaction in a timely manner, the bank will cover the loss and take measures to protect the account.
  • Stay alert online. Be sure computers and mobile devices are equipped with up-to-date anti-virus and malware protection. Never give out your personal financial information in response to an unsolicited email, no matter how official it may seem. Your bank will never contact you by email asking for your password, PIN, or account information. Only open links and attachments from trusted sources. When submitting financial information on a website, look for the padlock or key icon at the top or bottom of your browser, and make sure the Internet address begins with “https.” This signals that your information is secure during transmission.
  • Mobilize your defenses. Use the passcode lock on your smartphone and other devices. This will make it more difficult for thieves to access your information if your device is lost or stolen. Before you donate, sell or trade your mobile device, be sure to wipe it using specialized software or using the manufacturer’s recommended technique. Some software allows you to wipe your device remotely if it is lost or stolen. Use caution when downloading apps, as they may contain malware and avoid opening links and attachments – especially from senders you don’t know.
  • To stay on top of monitoring your identity, you are entitled to one free credit report a year. Use your credit report to check if anything seems suspicious, like an account you didn't open or debt that's not yours.

If your identity gets stolen, it can be a life-changing experience. Here are some steps to get  your life back on track.

  1. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports
    1. When you place an alert on your credit, this will prevent any other accounts from being opened.
    2. You can request to see if any changes seem suspicious.
  2. Close the accounts you think could be affected.
    1. Contact someone in fraud or security department of your financial institution (Contact Northwest Bank at 1-800-678-4105)
    2. Follow up in writing with copies of any supporting documents.
    3. If any debits exist on your accounts, or a new account has been opened, ask the financial institution for the correct paperwork to dispute this.
  3. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
    1. When you file with the FTC, you are providing information to help law enforcement officials track down thieves.
  4. File a report with local police department.
    1. Filing a report, along with a complaint to the FTC, can give you certain protections to ensure your identity can be protected and restored.

Important Numbers and Websites

The Three Big Credit Companies:

Important SHAZAM Numbers:

  • SHAZAM, 800.383.8000
    • To report lost or stolen cards 24/7
  • SHAZAM Fraud, 866.508.2693

About the Author

Susan Grant is director of consumer protection and privacy at Consumer Federation of America(CFA), an association of more than 250 nonprofit consumer organizations across the United States. CFA was founded in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy and education.

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