It has been reported that during 2016, approximately 15.4 million consumers were victims of identity theft or fraud. That number continues to rise as career criminals develop more sophisticated means to access data from unsuspecting victims. Social security numbers, credit card accounts, as well as access to personal information including birthdays, home addresses and other forms of personal information have all been stolen, costing billions of dollars and creating countless headaches for fraud victims.
Just recently Equifax, the credit-reporting bureau, announced a breach that has compromised potentially 143 million records including credit cards. “It is important to value your financial identity the same way you value your money. Credit fraud and identity theft are a fact of life. By implementing a few simple tools, you can proactively protect yourself before irreversible damage takes place,” explains Ralph D. Spencer Jr., President & CEO of Suffolk Federal.
Suffolk Federal recommends the following basic strategies to secure your identity from credit fraud and identity theft:
1. Keep Social Security Cards Secure
In recent years, the number one complaint with the FTC is stolen identity. Do not keep your social security card in your wallet. If your wallet is stolen, a thief will have direct access to your most important and vital identification tool. If you need to carry the number with you, write it down, remove the dashes and do not list what the number is. Also, never use your social security name or number as part of a user name or password.
2. Shred Important Documents with Confidential Information
Be careful what you place in the trash. Shred anything which has your name or any personal identifying information before you dispose of it. One way that an identify thief can obtain valuable information is through “trash picking.” This provides a means for a criminal to compile a list of service providers and other information to gain access to your life. Also make sure to shred junk mail solicitations for such things as credit cards, new mortgages and credit offers. If you allow access to this information, it can be easily pieced together so fraudulent accounts can be created in your name. As the saying goes, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
Do not shred everything since there are documents which you will need to keep for future reference. Speak to your accountant or attorney to find out which documents to keep and for how long.
3. Proper Disposal of Computers and Smart Devices
When you dispose of a computer, smart phone or any other digital tool, you need to ensure that your digital footprint is never left behind. Deleting the data or reformatting a disk will not destroy everything. There is security software available which will ensure that any data you no longer need is destroyed. You can also consider purchasing a whole disk encryption software to make it more difficult for a thief to access your data.
4. Digital ID—Create Strong Passwords and Make Sure They Are Secure
The following are some useful tips to create strong and effective password:
- Password should be a minimum of 8 characters long and should contain special characters such as @&! and/or numbers
- Use both upper and lowercase letters
- Do not use words that can be easily guessed
Make sure you “password secure” any confidential information to limit access to the information. Also, any confidential data that you send online should be encrypted for security which will guarantee that only the sender and receiver will be able to access the information
5. Monitor Your Credit and Financial Accounts Regularly on an Ongoing Basis
Make sure you review all of your financial account activity and immediately report unauthorized transactions or activity. You should monitor your credit report regularly to ensure that information is accurate and that suspicious activity is not taking place. Check all credit bureaus because information which may appear on one credit report may not appear on all reports. You can also place an initial fraud alert with a credit bureau. This is a free tool which works with all credit bureaus.
CreditKarma.com is a great tool which enables you to stay on top of and monitor your financial history on an ongoing basis.
Also consider using a service such as LifeLock, which helps you spot and dispute errors and potential issues to keep your credit history accurate. One of the many great benefits of LifeLock is that it proactively safeguards your personal information and alerts you to potential threats on an ongoing basis so you can be informed and stop a problem from becoming worse. For more information, visit our Benefits of Membership page.
6. Child Identification
Your child’s identification is also extremely vulnerable so make sure to monitor their credit and online identification on a continual basis. Theft which can go undetected for years may result in serious consequences for their future.
7. Secure Personal Information
Do not respond to unsolicited requests for personal information, either by mail, by phone or by e-mail. Financial institutions, including Suffolk Federal, never randomly solicit sensitive information. If you receive a legitimate-looking email asking you to click on a mysterious link or requesting your Social Security number or password, call the customer service number, just to be safe. There are countless “phishing” scams taking place online, so you need to stay alert. For more information, visit the FTC’s website.
8. Utilize Available Tools to Prevent Fraud
There are several effective tools that will help to protect you from fraud. Suffolk Federal, for example, offers innovative tools to its members, which protect credit and deters identification theft. These tools include:
- CardValet® Mobile App
Provides real-time notifications when your debit card is used. You can lock your card anytime and so much more.
- CardLock™ Mobile App
This app allows you to take an active role in protecting your credit card accounts.
- LifeLock® (requires monthly fee)
LifeLock identity theft protection helps to proactively safeguard personal information and alerts you of potential threats.
“Please remember that if you think your personal information has been compromised, it is most important to be proactive immediately by visiting one of the standard credit reporting agency’s websites for proper guidance,” Spencer added.