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Protect Yourself From Identity Theft
It seems as if the news increasingly includes stories of a computer hack at a company or organization that has put lots of people at risk for the theft of their personal information, including names, birthdates, account numbers and even Social Security numbers. While hacking probably will remain a risk of the computer age, there are things you can do to help protect your identity.
First, check your credit report. You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. You might be entitled to additional copies if, for example, you have been the victim of fraud. Go to www.annualcreditreport.gov
for more information.
Read your report thoroughly. If you find any false charges, contact the credit agencies to report the problem. If the false charges are on a credit card, contact the credit card issuer as well so they can close that account and issue you a new card and number.
If there has been a serious breach, consider a fraud alert or credit freeze. A fraud alert makes it harder for someone to open an account in your name. If you request a fraud alert from one credit reporting bureau, that bureau will alert the other two.
A credit freeze means that no one can open credit in your name. That includes you, so if you want to access credit – to buy a house or a car, open a new account or even get a job or rent an apartment – you have to temporarily lift the freeze. To get a credit freeze, you must notify each of the three credit agencies.
You also usually can put alerts on your bank accounts and credit cards so that you know when a charge is made above a certain amount or when a charge is made online.
Have strong passwords, and change them regularly. Use upper- and lower-case letters as well as numbers and symbols. Don’t use obvious information such as your name and address. And have a different and unique password for every account. You can get software that assigns passwords to your accounts and keeps track of them for you.
Better yet, move to two-step authentication where possible. With two-step authentication, you use both a password and a unique code that is texted or emailed to you each time you sign in.
Finally, use common sense online. Only enter credit card information at a secure site. You can recognize a secure site because the URL begins https, rather than http. Make sure you are really at the site you think you are; it is common for hackers and scammers to create websites that look virtually identical to the sites of charities, stores, etc. Don’t answer calls from numbers you don’t recognize, and don’t offer personal information to a caller unless you are certain the caller is legitimate. Don’t open emails from senders you don’t recognize, and especially don’t open attachments unless you are sure what they are.
There also are services you can buy that say they will protect you from hacking and identity theft and cover any expenses connected with clearing your name and credit record.
If you become the victim of identity theft, you can report it and formulate a recovery plan by visiting the federal government website www.identitytheft.gov.
We are happy to talk with you about any concerns you have about protecting your identity. You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 847-572-0808.