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Identity theft—it’s everyone’s nightmare.
And the latest large-scale data breach from Equifax has put nearly 143 million Americans at risk. As shocking as that is, the reality of it all is identity theft has been increasing at an alarming rate over the years.
According to a study released by Javelin Strategy and Research, a total of $16 billion was stolen from 15.4 million identity fraud victims in the U.S. in 2016.(1)
Since Zander Insurance created their identity theft insurance program in 2006, they have seen the claims continue to grow each year. "Identity thieves are always changing their game," says Diane Sacks, vice president at Zander Insurance. "It’s our job to help you stay ahead of them."
So, what should you do to help keep identity theft from happening to you?
Avoiding Identity Theft
1. Check your credit report three times per year.
You can get a report from each of the three credit bureaus every four months, then start over again the next year. "Don’t use freecreditreport.com," Diane says. "It’s owned by TransUnion, but it’s not really free." If you see something strange on your report, take action immediately.
2. Make sure your computer has updated anti-virus software.
If you don’t stay up to date with anti-virus software, you leave yourself open to being targeted. Protect your identity by routinely checking for updates. "This also includes anti-keylogging software so no one can hack into your computer," Diane says.
3. Make privacy a priority on social media.
Oh, social media. Some people just love to share every detail of their life without thinking twice about how public they’re being with their personal information. It’s recommended you set your privacy settings on the highest level to be safe. Also, don’t share personal information like your exact birthday (including the year), address, or mother’s maiden name.
4. Never use unsecured Wi-Fi.
As tempting as it might be to sit at Starbucks and sip your latte while going over your online banking statements—don’t! Unsecured, public Wi-Fi is just that, unsecured. Those sitting around you are on the same open network and can get access to your information easily. If you need to log on to your banking website, wait until you get home.
And while we’re at it, remember your home Wi-Fi must be secured with a password. Otherwise, anyone near your home can hop on to your network and gain access to your information. "Identity thieves are just waiting for opportunities like that," Diane says.
5. Change your passwords every 90 days.
This includes your bank accounts, email, and social media. "Once a thief gets one of your passwords, they’ll try it on many other sites. Facebook gets hacked all the time, so you don’t want them getting more personal information about you," Diane says.
She suggests making your passwords difficult combinations of uppercase letters, lowercase letters, and special characters. Be sure to use a different password for each account. In other words, don’t use the same password for all your social media profiles, email addresses, and banking accounts.
6. Check your online bank account every day.
"Banks have systems that watch your spending patterns and regular charges, and they’ll flag your account if something irregular is going on," Diane says. It’s still important for you to log on every day and make sure there aren’t any weird charges connected to your account. You are the first line of defense in protecting your identity.
7. Don’t send bills from your personal mailbox.
"A lot of people are so concerned with digital fraud, they forget the easiest type of identity theft—just stealing mail out of your mailbox," Diane says. "Don’t put checks in your mailbox because, when they have a check, they have your bank account number and routing number. That’s just handing vital information to a thief."
Diane suggests using the post office or a postal service mailbox to send bills. Also, grab any mail out of your mailbox as soon as possible, as thieves thrive on swiping those credit card mailers. "At the end of the day, thieves are lazy and look for the easiest way to get your information," she says. "Sometimes, that’s just your mailbox."
If you want further security, consider using a locked P.O. box at your local post office.
8. Keep your phone secure.
Make sure you take advantage of the passcode or thumbprint scan to get into your phone. Keep Bluetooth turned off when you aren’t using it. And also register with iCloud so you can remotely wipe your phone if it gets stolen.
9. Don’t fall for phishing scams.
Don’t open emails that look strange or suspicious. These are often phishing scams using fraud to gain access to your personal information. Read emails carefully before you open them, click on links, or download attachments. And always be on high alert if they ask for personal or financial information.
10. Guard your Social Security and bank account numbers.
The most important information to protect is your Social Security number. Credit card and debit card fraud is just one small part of identity theft. "The worst type of fraud is when someone has your unique name, date of birth, and Social Security number," Diane says. "That’s when they can get a job, file taxes, and even receive medical care in your name. Do everything you can to protect your Social Security number."
11. Don’t forget about your kids’ information.
Kids are easy identity theft targets because thieves correctly assume it will probably be a long time before the theft is detected. Kids aren’t credit active until they at least turn 18. Diane suggests using TransUnion’s free Child Identity Theft Inquiry.
"Fill out your child’s information, and you’ll receive an email back. If your child has a credit file, then that’s not a good sign," Diane says. "Your credit isn’t like your Social Security number. You’re not born with credit, and you’ll only have a credit report if you’re credit active." If someone is using your kid’s Social Security number, take action immediately.
12. Do the little things.
Check the Explanation of Benefits (EOB) statement from your insurance company. "That’s a great way to detect medical fraud," she says.
Never keep your Social Security card in your wallet. "I recently had a client who kept her Social and her kids’ Socials in her wallet," Diane says. "So when her purse got stolen, that was bad news."
13. Pay attention to data hacks and breaches.
If you receive a notification about a data breach (like the Equifax hack or the Target data breach a few years ago), start paying extra attention. "That doesn’t mean you’re a victim," Diane says. "But that does increase your risk. That’s when you start taking proactive steps to protect yourself."
Listen as Dave Ramsey talks about the recent Equifax incident.
Warning Signs That Someone Has Stolen Your Identity
- Unauthorized charges appear on your accounts.
- Your credit report shows accounts you didn’t open.
- You get a call from a collection agency about a debt you didn’t incur.
- Your banking and billing statements don’t arrive on time.
- You receive a bill from a credit card account you didn’t open.
What to Do If Identity Theft Happens to You
Let’s say you’ve done everything right—or maybe you’ve done everything wrong—and your identity gets stolen. In today’s world, there’s simply no way to fully protect your identity. So, what do you do?
1. Notify your banks and credit card companies and close all your accounts.
Report any suspicious charges and accounts to the appropriate credit issuers and credit bureaus immediately—both over the phone and in writing. Diane even suggests opening your new account at a different bank and transferring the money over to be extra safe.
2. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports.
Make sure you notify all three credit bureaus. Initially, you’ll get a 90-day fraud alert, but will extend to seven years once you’ve proven you’re a victim of identity theft.
3. File a report with your local police department.
Be sure to keep a copy of the report for your personal records.
Don’t be a sitting duck waiting for identity theft to find you. Be proactive and guard your identity using these steps. You can take action to protect yourself and your family.
Identity theft isn’t going away, so the best thing you can do is safeguard you and your family from a nightmare scenario. If you want to know more about Zander Insurance’s identity theft protection program, visit ZanderIns.com.
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