How to Fight Identity Theft
Identity theft is a growing problem in America, and around the globe. Cyber criminals don't have to be near you physically or ever see you in person to steal your most important information, such as bank account numbers, Social Security numbers, and passwords. If you're going to fight back against identity theft, knowledge is your number-one weapon.
Understand the Tactic of Phishing
A clever play on words, phishing refers to attempts by cyber criminals to capture your critical information by fishing for it on your hard drives or via your email address. The tactic takes on many different forms, but the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) defines its inner workings as follows:
"A typical phishing scam starts with an email that appears to originate from a reputable source (bank, lender, or credit card company), with a common theme that often warns of serious intrusion activity on your accounts that requires immediate action. You are then redirected to a phony website that looks like a legitimate web page. Here you are encouraged to enter your sensitive information, and the thieves gain all they need."
If you've already been the victim of this typical phishing scam, or believe that identity theft has occurred on one or more of your sensitive accounts, there are actions you can take to fight identity theft.
Take Preventive Measures
Consumer Reports recommends changing your passwords and usernames to sensitive accounts on a regular basis. Most importantly, avoiding reusing the same password in the same format for various sites. While it is easier to remember, it also opens the door to multiple sites for identity thieves with just one hack. Examples of good passwords include those that are at least eight characters, include an upper and lowercase letter, one number, and one special character.
Never provide information to any individual via email or over the telephone. If you believe that contact from your bank or lending institution might be legitimate, then initiate contact on your own directly with the institution to verify the situation and provide your information only when communicating directly with the bank or lender.
Under no circumstances should you ever provide sensitive information of any kind to unknown parties. Additionally, review your account statements on a regular basis to ensure charges to your accounts are correct each month.
Be Proactive Going Forward
Whether you've confirmed identity theft on your accounts or worry about the potential in the future, there are proactive steps you can take to protect yourself and your information going forward. First and foremost, download the latest antivirus and antispyware programs available to your desktop, laptop, and mobile devices to make sure your information is protected regardless of the points from which you access the web.
Also, take the time to download and use secure payment devices. If your banking institution doesn't already offer credit card with the new encrypted chips in them, ask for one. EMV cards have helped reduce counterfeiting by 60-80% since their introduction.
Download programs such as Apple Pay, Google Wallet, Softcard, and Samsung Pay. You can store your credit card and banking information on these devices and pay securely for all your purchases.
Last but not least, you're entitled to one free credit report annually, so you should take advantage of that knowledge. Stay on top of your credit report with Annualcreditreport.com and keep an eye out for irregularities. Once spotted, alert the appropriate lender or institution immediately to counter the threat of identity theft.
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