Tips for mitigating the financial impact of identity theft
With a number of large retailers and banks reporting massive data security breaches in the last year, leaving hundreds of millions of consumers’ personal information compromised, it seems inevitable that one’s identity and personal information will be stolen at some point.
Yet consumers are woefully unprepared to cope with the resulting financial consequences of such theft, and unaware of simple steps they can take to protect their personal and financial information.
Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards (CFP Board) Consumer Advocate Eleanor Blayney shares her tips on how American consumers can better prepare for the likelihood of having their identity stolen.
“As long as we exist, transact, and communicate in today’s world, none of us is immune to the devastating financial and personal consequences of identity theft,” says Blayney. “Consumers must confront the reality that there is constant risk of their personal information falling into the wrong hands, and need to know what to do when their information has been hacked.”
Blayney shares the most common places a consumer’s information is vulnerable, along with advice on how consumers can prevent, detect and mitigate the financial impact of identity and personal data theft.
- At Home: Invest in a small storage safe or safety deposit box where you keep hard copies of your information.
- Out in the Marketplace: Be selective about where you use a debit card. Only carry necessary identification and one credit card; don’t provide your social security number unnecessarily.
- Online Entry or Access to Information: Learn how to hide your IP address and create strong, unique passwords for every online account.
- Private Data over Public Web: Avoid accessing any important personal information through open, public Wi-Fi. Password protect your phone.
- Email: Consider using a cloud storage provider when sending and receiving files of sensitive information. Only open email from sources you know. Look out for red flags suggesting a scam, such as poor grammar and spelling.
Detecting and responding to identity theft
- Review Bank and Credit Card Statements: Be on the lookout for erroneous debits or charges.
- Pay Attention to Medical Charges: After seeing a medical provider, pay attention to the ensuing Explanation of Benefits (EOB) for any discrepancies in services, insurance coverage, and charges.
- Study Annual Social Security Statements: If they show larger earnings than you in fact received, someone else may be using your Social Security number.
- Request Credit Reports: Go to AnnualCreditReport.com to request a free report from each of the three major credit bureaus. Review these reports annually at a minimum.
- Freeze Accounts in the Event of a Breach: Place a fraud alert and credit freeze with any one of the three credit bureaus and your asset custodians if you think you have been a victim of fraud.