Even without last summer’s high-profile Equifax data breach dominating headlines, most U.S. consumers still are at risk of identity theft. In fact, according to a Javelin Strategy & Research study, identity fraud hit an all-time high last year with 16.7 million Americans becoming victims in 2017.
The good news is simple actions can help you protect yourself – and your loved ones – from becoming victims. If you haven’t already, you still can determine whether you were part of the Equifax data breach by going to www.equifaxsecurity2017.com.
1. CONSIDER LOCKING YOUR CREDIT REPORT. If you were part of the breach and don’t expect to be applying for a loan any time soon, you may want to lock your credit report. Locks now are available for free on www.Equifax.com and www.Transunion.com. Experian charges a fee for its lock product. However, you can sign up for free monitoring and alerts at www.freecreditreport.com, a website owned by Experian.
Another option is placing a security freeze on your credit report. According to Forbes, a freeze is similar to a lock but may offer more legal protection because it is required by state law. In Kentucky, the $10 freeze fee is waived if you are a victim of identity theft and submit a valid incident report you’ve filed with a law enforcement agency.
2. STAY SAFE ONLINE. As we all spend more time and do more shopping online, any safety precautions should be considered. Here are just a few best practices to help you stay safer online:
• Keep current with your software and virus protection.
• Create strong passwords by using numbers, letters and symbols instead of a word or phrase that may be easy to guess.
• Protect your online devices – physically and with passwords.
• Ignore and delete emails from senders you don’t know and never reply with personal information.
3. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF ALERTS AND OTHER TOOLS. Sign up for email or text transaction alerts from your credit union or financial institutions to keep track of purchases and learn about potential fraud early. Free alerts often are available in online or mobile banking and are an easy way to get real-time data delivered straight to you.
4. NEVER STOP LEARNING. Unfortunately, new scams and methods of fraud continue to surface. Stay informed and be sure to use the free educational tools your local financial institution offers. For example, you’ll find an entire interactive module on identity protection in the Financial Fitness Learning Center section of Fort Knox Federal Credit Union’s website.
Because there is no way to completely safeguard yourself, periodically reviewing your credit report also is important. Consumers can receive a free annual credit report by going to www.annualcreditreport.com, a central website that allows you to request a free credit report every 12-months from each of the nationwide consumer credit reporting agencies.
5. DON’T FORGET YOUR CHILDREN’S IDENTITIES. The rate of identity theft for children was 51 times higher than adults, according to a 2011 report on child identity theft from Carnegie Mellon University’s CyLab. A recent NPR article advised parents to be proactive and ask questions before providing personal information such as a child’s Social Security number.
You can use the same website, www.annualcreditreport.com, to see if your child has a credit report. If they do, experts recommend freezing it and cleaning up any fraudulent activities before your child needs to apply for their own lines of credit.
Other warning signs your child’s information has been compromised may include calls from collectors or bills in the child’s name.
Lastly, the Federal Trade Commission encourages parents to talk with their children about online security and become familiar with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which requires parental consent before websites collect personal information from children younger than 13.
While none of us can prevent all forms of identity theft or fraud, these five actions may reduce the likelihood of you or your loved ones becoming victims. Uncovering suspicious activity early also can help you put a stop to fraudulent activity and recover more quickly. Here’s to a safer back-to-school season for your family and your finances.