Today’s technology gives us some pretty cool advantages. No longer do we have to sit and wait at line in the bank just to cash the check, now we simply scan it on our smart phones and it’s instantaneously deposited into our checking account. Waiting for an appointment and having nothing to pass the time besides six month old magazines are no longer the case, as we now have copious amounts of apps at our fingertips that can entertain for hours on end. We no longer have to be at a desk top computer to check her emails, bank statements, or even our credit report. Thanks to smart phones, our lives have seemingly become easier. However with this sense of ease, also comes a heightened risk of infiltration from online hackers and an increase in identity theft. It is important for everyone to have a sense of awareness when it comes to their personal account information, and how to protect yourself from the hiding dangers that come with it.

To discover that your identity has been compromised is bound to be one of the most stressful and anxious moments that a person may experience.  Once an identity thief has their hands on your personal information, they have the power to wreak havoc on your accounts, finances, credit, and reputation.  If you think that identity theft can’t or won’t happen to you, I have bad news for you.  EVERYONE is at risk of identity theft if you use a computer, smartphone, tablet, or any other electronic device.  But those who refrain from such modern day conveniences are not out of danger, as simply throwing trash away can reveal personal information about you and your family.

If you are like millions of people, you may file your taxes, check your bank statement, view medical records, and so much more on your computer at home, or maybe even through a smart phone or tablet device.  In addition to that, how many pictures, contacts, and other valuable information is current on your phone or electronic devices?  When you think about it, a quick snapshot of your whole life could be right at your fingertips, as well as the fingertips of thieves.  Regardless of how you utilize your electronic devices, and what you search, you want to be prepared.  Here are some helpful tips that you can do to help protect your digital identity:

For Electronic Devices:

Phones: Lock your phones! Whether you are partial to using a passcode, unique pattern, or have the option for a fingerprint scanner, you want to make sure that you lock your phone when your phone is not in use.  Your passcode should be something that is not easily identifiable, such as a birthday, anniversary, or last four of your social.  You want to create a code that no one would think of correlating you with.  Locking your phone and having a solid passcode is especially essential if you utilize a mobile wallet or money transfer app.

Update & Back it Up: It is important to regularly back up your device and have automatic updates turned on.  Many updates help fix any bugs or issues that have been reported.  Keeping your phone backed up will ensure that you have all documents, should you lose or misplace your device.

Device Locator: Many smart phones and tablets have an option where you can turn on a feature that allows you to locate your device.  These apps can prove useful should you lose a device, or have it stolen.  Should your device be stolen, these apps allow you to remotely issue a command to erase personal information from it, even if the thieves turn it off.

Report Missing Devices: The moment that you realize that your phone or electronic component have gone missing, it is important to contact your wireless provider to inform them, as they can permanently or temporarily disable the SIM card and prevent someone from accessing the device for calls or the internet.  If you do not have an unlimited plan, this is especially important, as the thieves can rack up major charges- leaving you to foot the bill!  A good thing to keep in a secure location, is all of your electronic devices serial numbers or IMEI numbers (which is a unique identifier for your phone).

Accounts:

        Turning on Two-Way Authentication: Simply put, when you input your password into your device, you will also need a second way to prove the person logging in is you.  While this may seem like a mundane and tedious task to do, this extra layer of security makes it harder on hackers to gain access into your accounts.  Often times, thieves will try a few times to access your account.  By having doubled security, many systems will lock the account after a couple tries, which prevents hackers from being able to continue trying to guess your security passwords and codes.

Many providers will give several options to authenticate your identity, you want to make sure that you are not using the standard “mother’s maiden name” or “pets name”, as these are questions that a hacker may already have answers to, especially if your Facebook account is not private and you are friends with family members.  Hackers can obtain a lot of information just off of your social media accounts, which is why it is important to not divulge too much information, and keep your accounts private.

        Keep Tabs on Which Devices Have Access to Your Accounts: As mentioned above, social media sites, emails, and phone systems allow you to view your logins for your devices in the settings menu.  You can remove any device from the account, and opt to log out of each site remotely utilizing a computer or other electronic device.  This is helpful in the event that you ever misplace or have your devices stolen from you.

Monitor Log-In and Account Notifications: Social media sites and email provides have the option to notify you should a new device connects to your account, or if someone is attempting (or did) change your passwords.  It is important to monitor these so that you know who is accessing your accounts, and if any of them are not authorized users (such as household family members).

Changing Passwords Periodically: It should be a no-brainer, but in the event that you lose a device, you need to change your passwords.  Many of us have our devices set to automatically remember our log-ins and passcodes.  So in the event that your device is stolen, it allows perpetrators to have access to personal information.  But it is a good habit to get into to periodically change your passwords on all sites, not just social media.  This includes email, online banking, shopping sites, and any other place where you have personal information linked to an account.  Use a password that is challenging and harder for a hacker to figure out.  By using a combination of lower case and upper case letters, numbers, and special characters, you increase your accounts security over someone who uses a simple password.

Keep Tabs on Your Credit Report: It is imperative that you have a clear understanding of your credit history.  In many identify theft situations, the person is unaware of any wrong-doing, and the next thing they know, they are being contacted by multiple creditors looking for payment on debt.  By keeping your credit report maintained and monitored, you are able to detect any suspicious activity before too much damage is done.  Your credit report will indicate what debt is taken out, the amount of the debt, and to who you owe that debt to, along with a number to reach the organization.

So what do you do if you suspect, or find out that your accounts have been breached, and now face the possibility of identity theft?

One option is to put a fraud alert on your credit report.  This alert puts a red flag on your credit report which notifies lenders and creditors that they need to take extra steps in verifying the identity of the person applying for credit to make sure that it is you before they grant any additional credit.  In order to place a fraud alert to your account, you only need to contact one of the three main credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, or TansUnion).  Once the initial alert is placed, the agency automatically notifies the other two for you.  If you see something on your credit report that is not supposed to be there, you can click on the dispute button on your credit report.  You will be required to obtain documents to prove that you did not take out the line(s) of credit being reported, and each place will let you know what the process will entail.

Another option would be to put a security freeze on each of your credit reports.  This prevents creditors (except whom you already have credit out with) from having any access to your credit report at all.  So any new applications for credit will be automatically declined, as creditors will have no access to your account.  It is important to note that not every state allows a credit freeze to be place by individuals who are not victims of identity theft.  However, every state does allow identity theft victims to freeze their files.  This may or may not have a fee associated with it, to both freeze and thaw an account.  For more information on putting a security freeze on each account, click the below links:

Experian: https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html 
Equifax: https://www.freeze.equifax.com/Freeze/jsp/SFF_PersonalIDInfo.jsp
TransUnion: https://freeze.transunion.com/sf/securityFreeze/landingPage.jsp

If you find yourself in the throes of identity theft, you will want to contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to file an Identity Theft Affidavit, as well as file a police report to create an Identity Theft Report.  The FTC will be able to direct you with information on what your next steps will need to be, depending on what type of fraud may have been committed.  Be sure to keep a copy of the police report, as well as the report number.  The police report and the FTC Identity Theft Affidavit combine to create your Identity Theft Report.  The report will help you work with the credit reporting agencies or other businesses that may have been contacted to open accounts in your name.

In addition to filing a report, it is imperative that you also contact the Social Security Administration as well as the Internal Revenue Service.  Even if there is yet to be evidence of financial fraud, if you have any reason to believe that your social security number has been compromised, you need to contact SSA and the IRS. Thieves may be planning on swiping your tax refund, or obtain employment or health care in your name.

Identity theft is not a pleasurable experience for anyone.  The more you know, the better equipped you will be to ward off thieves and fraudsters. It can take months to learn that someone has applied for credit in your name. Stay up-to-date on your credit history, and remain in the know.

Also, ask The Choice Insurance Agency Team about adding an ID Theft policy to your existing home policy. This coverage is very inexpensive and is rolled into your home premium. Call The Choice Insurance Agency Team TODAY and ask about adding Identity Theft to your protection plan! The Choice Insurance Agency. We’re on YOUR side. 757-416-5100 .

All the Best,

Lynda Drew

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The Choice Insurance Agency’s mission is to help you get from where you are to where you want to be financially by planning, achieving your plan and protecting your plan from unexpected events.  In the process, our goal is to deliver insurance services in a manner that exceeds your expectations.  See what The Choice Insurance Agency can do for you today. Give us a call at 757-416-5100 to speak with one of the licensed, professional members of our team or request a contact here. The Choice Insurance Agency. We’re on YOUR side. 757-416-5100 .

 

References:

Roth, S. (2017, June 8). An identity thief stole my phone! Retrieved from Consumer Information : https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/identity-thief-stole-my-phone?utm_source=govdelivery&utm_campaign=%2B%20Laws%20and%20Legal%20Issues&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=54502996&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-_JaJ3rek1q00D1UDpi33lUKqVItlXV1abxrm4rJzgHTyJwCf

Rotter, K. (2017, February 7). 5 Steps to Take Immediately If You’ve Been a Victim of Identity Theft. Retrieved from Credit Sesame: https://www.creditsesame.com/blog/credit/steps-take-immediately-victim-identity-theft/