Friday, July 10, 2015

10 Steps to Protect Your Identity

Pathways Advisory Group, Inc.
Leslie Dermon, Paraplanner

Nervous about Identity Theft? You are not alone. After the reported mega-data breaches such as Anthem/Blue Cross or the IRS breach, an increasing number of clients have asked for help with Cyber Security and Credit protection.

Here are 10 steps you could take to improve your Identity protection:

1. Check your credit reports once per year. It’s often the first indicator that you are an identity theft victim. You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the 3 credit reporting companies once every 12 months. You may request the reports online or by phone. If you find names you don’t recognize, Social Security numbers that don’t belong to you, or accounts that aren’t yours, you might be a fraud victim. Please see:

2. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports. If you're concerned about identity theft, but haven't yet become a victim, this fraud alert will protect your credit from unverified access for at least 90 days. Ask 1 of the 3 credit reporting companies to put a fraud alert on your credit report. They must tell the other 2 companies. An initial fraud alert can make it harder for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name. The alert lasts 90 days but you can renew it. It is free. See:

3. Place a credit freeze on your credit reports. This tool lets you restrict access to your credit report, which in turn makes it more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name.  Most creditors need to see your credit report before they approve a new account. If they can’t see your file, they may not extend the credit. No new credit can be opened in your name without the use of a PIN number (issued when you initiate the freeze). Creditors cannot access your credit report unless you temporarily lift the freeze. See:

4. Credit monitoring services. Some companies, including consumer reporting companies, offer subscriptions to credit monitoring services. These services track your credit report, and generally send you an email about recent activity, such as an inquiry or new account. The more frequent or more detailed the report, the more expensive the service.

5. Email alerts on Bank accounts. Most banks offer account alerts to inform you about activity in your account. It is usually customizable through your online banking website.

6. Create strong passwords.  Weak passwords are words that can be found in a dictionary, a series of letters or numbers (1234 or abcd for example), and your personal information such as birthday or graduation date. To create stronger passwords, spell a word backwards, use special characters, or substitute numbers for certain letters. Do not use the same password on different websites. This may allow someone who gains access to one of your accounts access to many of your accounts.

7. Don’t give personal information over the phone.
If you get a call from someone you don’t know who is trying to sell you something you hadn’t planned to buy, you should decline. And, if they pressure you about giving up personal information (your credit card, or Social Security number, etc.) it’s likely a scam. You can report it to the Federal Trade Commission. For more information:

8. Review your social media privacy settings.
Make sure to adjust your privacy settings on social media websites (such as Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to share your content solely with the intended people.

9. Remove your Social Security card, PIN number and blank checks from your wallet. To protect yourself, make sure that what you are carrying in your wallet does not pose a security risk if it were to end up in the wrong hands.

10. Protect your information when using Public Wi-Fi.
Wi-Fi hotspots in coffee shops, airports, hotels, universities, and other public places are convenient, but often are not secure. If you connect to a Wi-Fi network, and send information through websites or mobile apps, it could be accessed by someone else. To protect your information, send information only to sites that are fully encrypted, and avoid using mobile apps that require personal or financial information. To determine if a website is encrypted, look for https at the start of the web address (the “s” is for secure). Some websites use encryption only on the sign-in page, but if any part of your session isn’t encrypted, your entire account could be vulnerable. For more information:

Sources: Experian - and the Federal Trade Commission -

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