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When browsing the internet, we should all be careful about which sites we enter personal information into in the hopes of avoiding financial identity theft.
When more than 145 million people had some form of personal information exposed after a major credit reporting agency in the U.S. was hacked, Americans were left scrambling to secure their sensitive information.
The Equifax Breach
Equifax, which collects personal data – like Social Security numbers, birth dates, credit card numbers, and addresses – announced in 2017 that an unidentified hacker group gained access to a large portion of its data. That again brought up the question of how people can protect themselves from identity theft.
Equifax is one of the three largest credit reporting agencies in the country; the other two are Experian and TransUnion. With millions of people being affected by the latest breach, some might not want to trust the agencies, but there aren’t really any options.
“We have no choice,” said Cora Lathrop, mortgage loan officer at Cherokee Nation. “I don’t think new credit reporting agencies are going to pop up. It’s just evolved through the years to these three major ones, and I don’t think there’s anything we as consumers can do about that, because wherever we have credit, it’s going to report to those major credit reporting agencies, whether you pay it or not.”
Who Is At Risk of Identity Theft?
Anyone who owns a credit card or enters their personal information online is subject to a data breach that may lead to their identity being stolen. There are other ways to have financial identities stolen, besides the massive hacking breach like the one on Equifax. Online activity can often leave users susceptible to scammers and frauds.
“What I have found, especially with elderly, when they’re playing on the computer, they’ll click on all these links, not knowing that it’s a bogus link that will attach malware,” said Lathrop. “Then you have young people who are on social media all the time. They’re susceptible because everything they know and own is in that phone. If it gets hacked, all of their identification is gone.”
Entering personal information like credit card numbers or Social Security numbers into questionable sites can leave folks at risk of identity theft. Consumers should also be leery of people who call and claim to be with the IRS.
“We have a lot of people who get scam phone calls claiming to be the IRS, saying ‘you owe us money,’” said Wright. “I get that call all the time. The IRS is never going to call you. They’re always going to send you a letter in the mail.”
For those who are at risk of having their financial identities stolen, data breach security solutions like confidential shredding services can help prevent fraud.
Data Breach Security Solutions
Identity theft is back to being the number one type of fraud reported in the U.S. most of which occur due to a data breach that gives hackers access to your personal information. Data breaches are on the rise and have been affecting millions of Americans in a severe way. Fortunately, there are precautions you can take to protect your identity and personal data. Take a look below at some of the ways you can keep your private information private.
#1 Freeze Your Credit
Lauren Wright, assistant professor of criminal justice at Northeastern State University, said a credit freeze might be the best move.
“The industry is not super-excited about that, but that’s something a lot of people are doing now,” said Wright. ” Basically what it is, you pay $10 and they freeze your credit report for however long you want it to be frozen, so no one can access your credit report. If someone was trying to steal your information, all of the big things they would do with it, they can’t do, because your credit is frozen.”
Wright said it would probably be best to call each of the three credit agencies to freeze assets. A downside to freezing one’s credit, though, is that the person would have to unfreeze it if he or she wanted to make a purchase.
#2 Use Credit Monitoring Services
Consumers can also pay for a credit monitoring service that alerts you anytime there’s any sort of activity on your account.
Equifax has started offering free credit monitoring for a year, and while that will keep people up to date on activity in their accounts for now, in a year, those customers might not be able to afford credit monitoring.
“One of the big problems is that we don’t know who has this information, where it’s going and what they’re doing with it; if it’s ever going to be used at all or if it’s going to be used 20-30 years down the line,” said Wright. “So I have this year of credit monitoring for free because my stuff was hacked, but what if it’s not a year? What if they wait 20 years to try and steal my information?”
Instead of paying for a credit monitoring service, people can also carefully pay attention to their accounts. Oftentimes, identity thieves will start by taking out small amounts of money from accounts. Once they realize the person hasn’t acknowledged small charges here and there, they’ll begin making larger transactions.
“It’s a matter of being smart and conscious about what you’re doing,” said Lathrop. “These people who steal your identity are very smart, or else they wouldn’t know how to do that. So as smart as we can be, there’s going to be somebody who comes up with a new idea to try and trap us.”
#3 Avoid Public Wi-Fi
Your data is extremely vulnerable when you access sensitive information through an open or public Wi-Fi network. While it may be convenient to quickly check your bank account on Starbucks’ Wifi connection, it’s not very safe and definitely not secure. Whatever activity you make on your device while hooked up to public Wifi can be found and used by hackers. Fraudsters do this by gaining access to your name, date of birth, and login credentials for several apps, including those with your SSN and credit card information.
To protect yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft, use a virtual private network to keep your private information safe. A virtual private network, better known as a VPN, is a data encryption software that hides your identity, online activity, and communications from unwanted persons. With your IP address hidden, you can continue using your device on public networks while maintaining your privacy.
#4 Keep Up-To-Date on Your Software
Software updates are often recommended due to issues being experienced by other users. When an update becomes available, it’s important not to ignore it. We know it can be an inconvenience to stop what you’re doing and sit through a software update, but it could save you from being a victim of identity theft.
When an organization finds a flaw in its security or operating systems, it will work out a solution and release it to its users. However, until the patch is installed by the user, their information is left vulnerable. So, be sure to update your software as soon as it recommends one.
#5 Educate Yourself on Protection Protocols
One of the best methods of protection is education. With the tools and resources to protect yourself, you’ll be better equipped to deal with a case of identity theft should one ever arise. We recommend visiting the Federal Trade Commission for more information about identity theft and how to protect personal information.
Securely Shred Your Documents to Protect Your Identity
American Document Destruction, Inc. is a secure solution document destruction company that specializes in on-site and off-site Reno document shredding.
We also offer CSR Readiness and data breach reporting solutions to prevent identity theft in its tracks. We know how detrimental a data breach can be that’s why our goal is to protect your business and improve the way it handles personal information. Our regularly scheduled data destruction and confidential shredding services ensure the consistency of your privacy needs.