By Sheryl Reichert
Are you worried when news headlines report on another online data breach? You should be. Hackers are stealing personal identifying information from millions of consumers, including names, addresses, Social Security numbers, birthdays and credit card accounts that could be used for identity theft.
To cause even more confusion, scammers will often take advantage of data breaches and set up spoof websites and send phishing emails, opting for a more direct approach to fraudulently obtain personal financial information.
If you believe a data breach has compromised your personal identity, here are a few action steps to consider:
1. Take a preemptive strike by freezing your credit reports. This will not impact existing credit cards and financial accounts, but will create a roadblock for online thieves seeking to create fraudulent accounts using your personal information. A security freeze will lock down your credit reports, which are used by lenders to determine your credit worthiness, and prevent identity thieves from establishing new lines of credit in your name.
With your credit reports on ice, opening new credit will require some advanced planning. Opening store credit cards on impulse may no longer be an option. You’ll need to request a temporary “thaw” with all three credit bureaus to allow lenders to access your reports.
2. A fraud alert on your credit report is another protective measure. A fraud alert flags your credit reports, alerting potential lenders to verify the identity of anyone attempting to open an account in your name. Fraud alerts are free and don’t interfere with your ability to receive instant credit. However, fraud alerts rely entirely on the diligence of the person performing the credit check. Fraud alerts are also temporary and must be reinstated every 90 days in most cases.
3. Take advantage of free credit monitoring services being offered to data breach victims. This will alert you to new accounts or inquiries using your Social Security number so that you can act quickly to repair the damage.
While nothing can prevent all forms of identity theft, here are a few ways to protect your personal information online: Update your computer with the latest anti-virus software and a secure firewall. Set strict privacy settings. Consider restricting access on social network profiles to only friends or family or people you know. Set strong passwords. Make sure all passwords, most importantly your passwords for online banking, social media accounts and emails are difficult to guess. What you post can last a lifetime, so before posting online think about how it might be perceived now and in the future and who might see it. Shop on trustworthy websites. Check a seller’s reputation and record of customer satisfaction with the Better Business Bureau.
The BBB offers free educational information on how to be aware, informed and proactive so people can protect themselves against frauds and scams. For additional consumer protection information, visit www.bbb.org or contact the BBB by phoning (858) 637-6199.