In a study conducted by Javelin Strategy & Research, it was found that $16 billion was stolen from 15.4 million U.S. consumers in 2016. Identity theft happens when someone other than yourself uses your personal information without your permission. Your personal and financial information are an extremely valuable commodity in the 21-Century. Recent and notable identity theft breaches include the following:
- Yahoo – 3 billion email accounts and passwords were compromised
- eBay – 145 million passwords were hacked
- Equifax – 143 million customers had their financial information stolen
- Target – 70 million credit cards and debit cards were compromised
It is very important that you know how to identify the signs of identity theft as well as know the steps in preventing it from happening to you.
Signs of Identity Theft
- Unknown charges in your bank accounts
- Unknown withdrawals from bank accounts
- Collection calls about accounts you never opened
- Unexpectedly denied for credit cards or loans
- Missing mail or billing statements
- Receiving unexpected mail
- Medical providers bill you for services you didn’t use
Personal Identity Protection Practices
Online Account Access
- Use two-factor authentication (such as password and pin) whenever possible
- Create long passwords with capitals, numbers and symbols
- Use multiple usernames and passwords - you can create an encrypted password reference document that can be used to lookup passwords, or use a password manager like Lastpass (https://www.lastpass.com) or Dashlane (https://www.dashlane.com).
- Change passwords regularly, specifically for financial accounts (at least ever 6 months)
- Always access your accounts via secure Wi-Fi. Your smart phone can often be used as an unsecure network traffic leaving it vulnerable to compromise. If you are using an unsecured Wi-Fi, assume that others can see your information. Common unsecure networks include hotel guest networks, coffee shops and free public Wi-Fi areas.
Email viruses and Malicious Software (Malware)
- Use a dedicated email account for financial transactions.
- Be wary of unsolicited emails – Especially if there is a link to a website or request for personal information, even if they appear to come from a recognized entity.
- Do not open suspicious attachments, even from recognizable providers and verify the senders email address prior to opening an attachment.
- When in doubt, pay special attention to font, formatting, sender information, and content. Most legitimate emails will use a common font, common font color and the language will be grammatically correct and the content will make logical sense. See the sample malicious email below. The fraud clues are underlined in red.
- Install and use antivirus and malware software regularly. Also, be sure to turn on auto updates.
- Install industry-standard and well-known software and applications. Do not install software and applications from unknown developers. Keep software up-to-date, and perform regular information backups.
- Install a Remote Data-Wipe Application on your phone and computer. These applications can erase information on your laptop if lost or stolen. There are free applications which can erase data on your computer, phone or tablet if they are lost or stolen.
- Find my iPhone application can also be used to remotely wipe data at http://www.icloud.com/ for Mac Computers, iPhones and iPads. Similar applications are available for Windows computers (such as https://www.preyproject.com/features.
Actions to Take if you Believe Your Identity is at Risk
- Reset username and passwords for all accounts (specifically financial accounts)
- Visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website, https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0014-identity-theft
- Review credit reports and immediately report issues or discrepancies
- If your identity is confirmed to be stolen, report the theft to the police and contact the following credit bureaus:
- Request a credit freeze from all three credit bureaus
- Secure or shred personal and financial information
- Remove personal information from social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) and other websites
- Review services, such as DeleteMe.com, to remove personal information from search engines