Fraudsters have been trying to steal your identity and personally identifiable information – or PII – for many years. But, the growing number of data breaches at retailers, financial institutions and credit agencies mean that you are more at risk than ever.
Once a criminal organization gets a hold of your name, Social Security number, date of birth, health insurance info, and more – it will likely sell every bit of it on the dark web. Once that happens, the buyer can open credit card or bank accounts, apply for loans, or commit any number of crimes in your name.
You as an average consumer can’t do much about the massive data breaches – but you can take some basic steps to protect your financial future:
- Watch for phishing attempts – that’s phishing with a “ph”. In this case, a fraudster may send you an email or contact you online. He tries to appear legitimate – perhaps using a logo from a recognized bank or a real-looking website. He offers you money back on a new bank account or a great interest rate on a credit card – if you just supply him with all of your personal info.
- Another concern – discarding credit card offers or mail with personal info on it in the trash or recycling. Make sure you shred such documents… or better yet, ask to quit receiving credit card and insurance offers all together by going to www.optoutprescreen.com.
- Watch your credit card and utility bills as well as bank statements for unusual transactions.
- Enable security functions on your phone and computer – especially if you have passwords stored or apps that link to your financial institutions.
- Be careful when using a public wifi system and consider using a virtual private network when you can.
- Never respond to unsolicited requests for your personal info, whether online, by email, by phone or in person.
Next week we will look how your credit report plays into ID theft protection – and how you can make sure you are using it as part of your digital defense.
If you have been victimized by an online scam or any other cyber fraud, be sure to report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov or call your local FBI office.