On a Saturday morning while running errands, I received a call that left me exclaiming, “Oh, no! Not again!” It was the third time in seven years our credit card number was stolen, shared, and fraudulently used in multiple states. While the bank notified us the first and second time, I felt panicked when the call did not come. As a client, I requested to be immediately notified, regardless of the hour, should it happen again. Living with a husband who ensured network security for government offices at one time, most would think we are safe from theft. In fact, no one is truly safe. According to the Department of Justice, “More than 17.5 million people were identify theft victims last year.” The following “solutions” will help you become more aware, and know how to take steps toward security and protection for each member of your household.
One common method of identity theft is called “account takeover fraud.” It occurs when your credit card and vital personal information is stolen through any account using email or “phishing” scams. Hackers will change your settings and make purchases, or open new accounts in your name. A victim may not be aware of the theft until either a bill arrives or the collectors start calling.
- Install spyware, malware, and ad blocker protection on every computer in the home. Run weekly scans.
- Be creative with new passwords. Try “!l0veCh0c0!@te” or “Th1$P@ssw0rdI$L0ng.”
- Frequently review credit and debit card activity. Most fraud begins with a “test,” in which the thief charges an unnoticeable amount, such as a few dollars.
- Never answer “phishing” emails that ask you to verify your banking information. If you question the validity, call the bank directly.
Debit cards have a greater risk than credit cards, especially if used at a gas station pump, ATM or other outside “machine.” Your data can be stolen through what is termed a classic “skimmer” attack, cloned, and used to empty bank accounts.
- If you notice the machine has a different color or the graphics are not correctly aligned, WALK AWAY.
- Use your hand to hide the sequence of the PIN code.
- While not all transactions are 100% protected, report a lost or stolen debit card, or fraud immediately. A bank credit card has greater protection than debit or ATM cards.
Protecting Your Identity Online
Thieves do not need your credit card number to steal it. Sometimes, one piece of vital information can be the beginning of identity theft. It may sound harmless, but think of the innocent personal information that is listed on your social media site. You may think, “By listing my birthday, places of employment, and high school, future friends can find me.” Well, that’s true. Depending on your level of security, anyone can find you. The Internet and social media sites have made stealing a person’s identity much easier.
- Change your settings from “everyone” to “friends only.”
- Delete personal information, which includes birthdates, home addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and places of employment.
- Remind children to not share details such as functioning or fake alarm systems and codes, lock boxes or safes, or any valuable item.
- Never “share” whether you are leaving the house for an evening or an out of town trip. Pictures of special events and vacations should be posted after you return, clearly stating, “Our family HAD a great vacation.”
If you do not own an iPhone, computer for email, or shop online, you may think you are less prone to identity theft. The reality is that stealing mail continues to be a frequent and preferred method of thieves. The average household receives credit cards with vital information and blank checks, credit card and banking statements. It is a good chance your mailbox has something worth stealing.
- If a credit card or other bill has not arrived, immediately call.
- Go 100% paperless, and access your financial statements through the businesses’ websites. Shred all credit card receipts and statements that have card numbers, names and addresses.
- Close unused accounts.
- On each credit card, the safest protection is to write “See ID” with a Sharpie. These words cannot be written over or erased.
- Request new checks to be picked up at the bank. Stolen checks can be altered and cashed by thieves.
NC House Bill 607
Every day, thousands of families are shocked to discover their child’s identity is stolen. Prior to North Carolina House Bill 607, credit bureaus could not freeze reports for minors under the age of 16. Effective January 1, 2016, parents and guardians have the legal right to a “security freeze.” To learn more information on how North Carolina is protecting its youth, visit the NC Department of Justice website.