Living in the Digital Age provides many conveniences that previous generations didn’t have – the Internet, Smartphones, social media, artificial intelligence, the list goes on. But with these technological advancements come some risks, the most dangerous of which is identity theft (also referred to as identity fraud).
According to Experian, identity theft occurs when someone uses your identity or personal information, such as your name, your driver's license number or your Social Security number, without your permission to commit a crime or fraud.
Chances are, you know someone who has been a victim of identity theft and have witnessed the stress and hassle – and sometimes devastation – that happens months and even years down the road. So, how can you prevent becoming a victim yourself?
In my many years working in the financial services industry, I have heard a lot of horror stories when it comes to identity theft. It can happen to anyone – the young, the older and even those who think they may be playing it safe. So here is a list of ways that PAX came up with to help our clients keep their identity protected.
1. Protect your Social Security number and card.
Your Social Security number should be guarded as much as your most valuable asset – because it is. When asked for your Social Security number, consider if that person/business needs that information. If deemed necessary, speak it quietly if others are around and if writing it down, ask if the documents will be shredded afterward. In the case of a doctor’s office or similar situation, you can ask to have the receptionist enter it directly into the system to avoid the risk of a paper falling into the wrong hands. Additionally, you should never keep your Social Security card in your wallet.
2. Have secure locations for personal information.
To the point above, it’s crucial to keep important personal documents in a secure location, such as a safety deposit box at a bank, or if you choose to keep it at home, invest in a fireproof document holder or safe. Don’t keep the safe in an obvious place, and don’t keep the key or combination close by or in an obvious location. A good rule is to protect your personal documents as much as you would protect your fine jewelry or other valuables.
You can also use a virtual vault, something PAX Financial Group offers to clients. These online safes typically store all your personal information in a secure cloud-based data vault.
3. Shred personal documents including medical and financial information.
Identity thieves are not above going through the trash – so simply throwing away personal documents may not be enough to protect your identity from being stolen. By shredding all documents with personally identifying information, you can give yourself an extra layer of protection from identity thieves. Also, don’t forget about unsolicited credit card and loan offers that come in the mail – there is a risk that if that offer fell into the wrong hands, there could be enough information for someone to fraudulently accept that offer as you.
4. Be careful when using shared computers or public Wifi networks.
Browsing the Internet using public Wifi at a coffee shop or library can be a convenient way to get online. Just beware that without a secured, password-protected network, your personal information could possibly fall into the wrong hands. Be especially careful when making online purchases or filling out forms with personally identifiable information. If possible, wait to conduct these online transactions until you’re using a secured Wifi source. If you must use public Wifi to shop or conduct personal business, check that the websites you use are https vs. http to ensure it’s a secure site.
5. Check your credit report often.
Your credit report and score are crucial to your ability to get a loan, secure housing and even get hired for a job. Pay close attention to your score and report by checking it at least once a year for any discrepancies, which could include possible fraud. This is because sadly, some types of identity fraud are not identified right away and can wreak havoc on your credit without you even knowing. You don’t want to apply for a loan or apply for a job and get denied because of identity theft and not realize why until it’s too late.
6. Look out for scams.
Some types of identity theft rely on human emotions to scam people out of their personal information. For example, many people will panic if they receive a call or email from their bank or credit card company telling them there’s a problem with their account and they need to verify their information. This is of course a trick, but if caught in the moment and panicked, people will give out information to the wrong person. If this happens to you, contact the bank directly – don’t give your information to the person calling or emailing you! As a rule, banks and credit card companies will not call you and ask for your information.
Another type of scam is when victims are told they have won a sweepstakes or lottery, but that they have to provide a bank account number for the funds to be deposited into. A general rule of thumb for this scenario is that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Especially if you don’t remember entering the sweepstakes to begin with!
Seniors should especially be aware, as there are many groups that target those over 50. Children caring for their aging parents should also be cautious of this. Consider asking your parents these questions about their finances.
7. Enroll in a fraud protection program with your credit card company.
Most credit card companies offer some type of fraud protection. This protects you from fraudulent purchases on that card. This can be a lifesaver if an identity thief goes on a shopping spree.
8. Use difficult passwords.
When creating a password, try not to use easily guessed phrases such as your name, your pet’s name, your birthday, etc. While doing so might make it easier for you to remember, it could also make your password easier for criminals to guess. (Unfortunately, this can also be your children.) Additionally, don’t duplicate passwords for multiple accounts. If you do, an identity thief who gets in one of your accounts, could use that same password to potentially access them all. There are many resources for password generators online to help you come up with one that’s secure. Once you have a secure password, keep it safe by not writing it down on or near your computer or wallet. It’s best not to write it down at all, but if you do, keep it safe and not in an obvious place.
9. Consider identity theft insurance.
Regardless of the many steps you can take to combat identity theft, unfortunately it can still happen. Identity theft insurance exists and can help you recover should you find yourself in this difficult situation.
10. Talk with your financial advisor to see if they can help with an identity theft plan.
Your financial advisor may be able to help you come up with a plan to protect your identity and therefore your wealth. He or she may also be able to recommend an identity theft protection plan or other ways to help keep your assets safe.
Contact PAX Financial Group to see how we can help.
This material is provided by PAX Financial Group, LLC. The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. The information herein has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note: Investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. Investments will fluctuate and when redeemed may be worth more or less than when originally invested. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All market indices discussed are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment. Indices do not incur management fees, costs and expenses, and cannot be invested into directly. All economic and performance data is historical and not indicative of future results.