There isn't a single season when identity theft can occur, scammers and hackers are at work year-round. According to Lifelock.com, nearly 15 million consumers experienced identity theft in 2017
. During the peak retail season, however, your chances of becoming a victim increase significantly. Why?
There are a number of reasons. First, you are likely shopping online more during the holiday season. Second, you are likely busier, more distracted and less likely to notice warning signs. Third, because of the sheer volume of purchases being made this time of year - online and in the store- you are probably not checking your accounts and statements to ensure there is no fraudulent activity.
Regardless of the season, there are a number of steps you can take to help protect yourself.
1. Make it difficult for thieves and hackers to secure your personal information.
Don't leave documents with personal information laying out in the open, especially if you have roommates or frequent guests in your home. Create strong passwords- typically the longer the better- that include a combination of numbers, special characters and capital letters. Enable a passcode on your smartphone.
2. Keep your private stuff private.
This means checking your settings on your social media channels to limit who can see what you post. Even then, be careful of what you share online, especially any travel plans, your street address or email address. Also, beware of public Wi-Fi, as it's easy for others to see what you're doing on public or free Wi-Fi.
3. Protect your accounts with two-factor authentication.
This increasingly popular prevention method allows you to enter your user name and password the way you have in the past. The difference is that a numeric code is then sent to a separate device for further verification. Once you enter the code, you are granted access to your account.
4. Use a password manager.
It's hard to keep track of all of your passwords and you shouldn't keep using the same one over again. Password managers can create randomized passwords for you, keep track of your passwords, and remind you when it's time to update them.
5. Beware of the warning signs that you've been compromised.
When you're on your computer, watch for new files that have appeared and be aware of files that are missing. New programs and internet browser toolbars may also indicate someone has been poking around in your account.
6. Review all statements regularly.
Look for unexplained withdrawals and charges. Beware if bills aren't arriving, as scammers may have changed the address.
7. Shred documents that have your bank account information, Social Security number, or other personal information.
Also, cut up expired credit and debit cards by cutting through the numbers before disposing of them.
8. Be suspicious of any unsolicited attempts to secure your personal information.
Never give sensitive information over the phone if you did not initiate the call
. If you did initiate the call, recognize that companies may ask for certain information to verify your identity, but be careful.
Also, if you're required to provide personal information in order to secure a prize or incentive, chances are there is a scammer on the other end of the phone or computer screen.
9. Check your credit reports regularly.
Make sure there are no unauthorized inquiries or accounts. You have the right to check your credit report with all three major credit bureaus once per year at no cost at annualcreditreport.com
10. Consider investing in an identity monitoring service.
Although these services do not help prevent identity theft, they often alert you of suspicious activity. The sooner you can identify a breach of your information, the sooner you can start to resolve the situation.
Despite taking all of these precautions, if you believe you've been hacked, act immediately! Notify your financial institution and any creditors. Disconnect from the internet and run a complete scan with an anti-virus/spyware scanner you trust.
You can also visit www.identitytheft.gov
for more information on how to stop and recover from identity theft.
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The information and recommendations contained herein is compiled from sources deemed reliable but is not represented to be accurate or complete. In providing this information, neither Cortland Bank or its affiliates are acting as your agent or is offering you any tax, accounting or legal advice.
- Consumer fraud and identity theft
- Prevention and protection tips
- How to respond to identity theft