October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. This year, unlike any other, Americans of every age are spending more and more time online. Working from home, meeting by Zoom, ordering groceries, and attending school have become a way of life rife with opportunities for identify theft. National Cybersecurity Awareness Month reminds all of us to think about protecting our personal information when we are online.
Follow these steps to reduce your risk of identity theft and the misuse of your personal information.
Step #1 Freeze Your Credit – One of the most effective ways to protect yourself from identity theft is to contact each of the major credit reporting agencies listed below by phone or via their websites and activate a security freeze. You will be able to lift the security freeze whenever you need to finance a purchase, but this freeze will stop the bad actors from accessing your credit. If you believe you’ve been a victim of identity theft, contact the credit reporting agencies to help protect your account and credit from further damage.
Credit Reporting Agencies
- TransUnion 800-680-7289 www.transunion.com
- Equifax 800-525-6285 www.equifax.com
- Experian 888-397-3742 www.experian.com
Step #2 Place A Fraud Alert on Your Credit Report – If you have been a victim of identity theft, contact any one of the consumer-reporting agencies and request a fraud alert on your credit report to prevent future instances of identity theft. The one you contact is required to alert the other two on your behalf.
Step #3 Make Sure Your Communications Are Secure – The first place to start is with your email and text communications. Do not give out personal or financial account information on unsecured Internet sites or respond to unsolicited emails and texts. Above all, do not click on a link or open an attachment if you are not sure where or who it came from.
Step #4 Beware of Suspicious Emails and Text Messages – Treat suspicious emails and text messages as spam and permanently delete them. Update your email filter to block or flag future messages from the sender.
Step #5 Use Strong Passwords – To protect access to your computer, your phone and your accounts, make sure you use strong passwords that include at least seven alpha numeric characters, a symbol and both upper and lower case letters. Be sure to update your passwords periodically. When offered, accept the opportunity to select two-factor authentication.
Step #6 Be aware of Phishing – Identity theft often occurs as a result of a consumer’s innocent sharing of personal information. Do not click on a link, open an attachment or respond to or open emails that seem legitimate but are actually trying to obtain sensitive personal or financial information.
Step #7 Protect Your Phone – When it comes to identify theft, phones are gold. They house incredible amounts of personal information, buying preferences and behavioral tendencies about you and your contacts. Never give out personal information or account details over the phone unless you’re the one who made the call, or you know the calling party. Always keep your cell phone with you or in a secure location and lock it with a passcode to prevent access to stored information.
Above all make sure you connect to trusted Wi-Fi networks or virtual private networks (VPNs) secured by encryption when performing financial functions on your phone. If you do lose your phone, try to remotely erase all data from your device and change all passwords for any accounts that have been accessed via your phone.
Best Advice – Knowing how to protect your data from hackers and unscrupulous marketers is your best protection against identity theft. Learning how to confirm the identity of a party who emails, texts or calls you is equally important. Not all unknown people who seek to reach you are marketing a product or seeking to compromise your data. For example, debt collectors are frequently hired by creditors and hospitals to request payment on an outstanding balance. Many people who receive calls and texts or even emails from a debt collection firm may be leery about responding electronically or clicking on a link embedded in the communication if they do not recognize the name or number of the party seeking to reach them.
Consumers who are reluctant to respond to an unknown party can visit the websites of the trade associations representing debt collection and debt buying companies to determine if they are legitimate organizations. For example, the Receivables Management Association International (RMAI) is one of the leading trade associations representing debt buyers, debt collection agencies, debt collection law firms and creditors. Consumers are encouraged to visit RMAI’s website at https://rmaintl.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/RMAIMemberRoster_09-30-20.pdf to identify members of the association and https://rmaintl.org/consumers/ for valuable tips about managing a debt that is past due.