Last September, Equifax, one of the nation’s main credit reporting agencies, announced that due to a major hack, the personal details of 143 million American consumers had been exposed.
Agency representatives stated that cyber criminals had taken advantage of a security vulnerability in Apache Struts, a tool used by Equifax to support its online portal, and moved in to access millions of consumer files. A breach of this magnitude is a clear reminder that we need to strengthen our personal defenses against identity theft. Now.
Monitor Your Accounts
The Equifax hackers stole information for close to 300,000 credit card accounts, so check your statements immediately for any purchases that you do not recognize, and report any unusual transactions to the card issuer immediately. Use the same approach with your checking accounts, and set up transaction alerts going forward. You’ll be notified the moment there’s a purchase, withdrawal, or any other account action, allowing you to immediately investigate.
Remember: even a small mystery charge can signal danger. Criminals often make small purchases or withdrawals in the beginning, followed by bigger ones if no preventative action is taken. If a $4.99 charge is not yours, for example, take action right away.
Review Your Credit Report
Once a year you are entitled to a free credit report from each of the three main consumer reporting agencies, but the seriousness and extent of identity theft today makes it advisable that you keep monthly tabs on your FICO score and sign up for credit alerts. This way, if someone tries to use your information to apply for credit, you’ll know more quickly.
Add More Security
Protect your banking and credit card accounts by setting up two-factor authentication, which would require you to log in using both a password and a single-use code sent to your smartphone. The extra step makes it more challenging for a cyber criminal to get into your account.
Create a Fraud Alert
Fraud alerts require a bank or credit card issuer to verify your identity before issuing a new card, increasing an existing credit limit, or opening a new account. Fraud alerts initially last for 90 days, so remind yourself when it has to be renewed. Extended, seven-year alerts are available for identity theft victims.
Be Cautious with Tax Returns
File your tax returns as soon as possible. Scammers have been known to use Social Security numbers to apply for and snatch your refund before you have the chance to claim it yourself. Never give your tax information to anyone over the phone—if the IRS needs to contact you, it will do so by mail.
Tax fraud appears to be on the decline: the IRS reported 377,000 instances in 2016 compared to nearly 700,000 the year before. This doesn’t mean that it can’t happen to you, though. If you believe that you are the victim of tax fraud, contact the IRS and be prepared to file Form 14039, the identity-theft affidavit.
Watch for Fraudulent Emails
An information-stealing strategy favored by hackers is the phishing email, which looks legitimate but actually exposes you to malware. If a company you’re doing business with sends you an email requesting account verification, contact them to confirm that they in fact sent it.
Shred Documents with Personal Information
Never throw a bank statement, credit card application, or any other document with sensitive or personal information into the trash or recycling. Shred them first, so that they can’t be used later to access money or other benefits in your name.
Consider a Security Freeze
When placed on your credit report, a security or credit freeze restricts access to its contents. While this can prevent others from opening new accounts in your name, creditors will also deny you credit because they can’t view your report, so bear that in mind before taking this step. In Florida, a security freeze remains in place until you remove it.
At We Insure, we take the issue of identity theft very seriously. To help protect our clients from this type of stress and financial loss, we have partnered with IdentityForce to give you access to award-winning identity protection plans. For more information on how we can help you, contact We Insure agent Rick Leal today at (305) 921-4057.