I’m a personal finance writer and quite proactive when it comes to securing my personal information and financial records. However, I’m like everyone else who can fall victim to identity theft, fraud, and account takeovers.
A few months ago, I was at a gas station waiting for the attendant to pump gasoline into the car. I handed my credit card and a few seconds later the attendant stated it was declined. I didn’t think much of it so I handed him my debit card. He, then, stated the debit card was declined as well.
I assumed they had issues with their machine so I drove to a gas station across the street. I was, again, told the card was declined. I checked my accounts on my banking apps and everything looked fine. And, then called the bank trying to figure out what was happening with my accounts.
It turned out I was almost a victim of an account takeover.
At first, I was confused as to why I wasn’t notified by email, or a letter, or a message within the bank’s app. Apparently, the bank left a voice message, but like many others in my generation, we don’t listen to voice messages. The bank’s policy was to contact the last known phone number on file and wait for a response. In protecting their customers, they decided to freeze my accounts until I returned the call.
When I called I was told some questionable charges were appearing on my accounts along with an address and phone change request.
What was dumbfounding was the time it took for me to realize my accounts were compromised. The bank, where I have both my debit and credit card, reached out to me 7 days prior to the gas station issue. That meant I had no clue my accounts were almost compromised for an entire week.
I don’t know what information these fraudsters had and how they came about it. I just know of a greater need for us to be vigilant in protecting our identity.
So how you can protect your financial identity?
First let me define what identity theft is–identity theft and identity fraud are terms used to refer to all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain.
There are thousands of new identity fraud cases reported each day. A 2016 Javelin study found 15.4 million people or 1 in 16 people were victims of identity theft in the United States.
I am a big fan of free credit score and monitoring services that help me monitor my finances and credit report. But, not many offer alerts as potential fraud is happening and only after it has taken place.
I sat down and thought of ways to protect my financial identity and secure your information.
Here is my list of 6 ways to protect your financial identity
Keep your Social Security Number safe
Do not share your Social Security Number with anyone who doesn’t have the legal right to request it. Ask how your Social Security Number will be used and how they are safeguarding your personal information.
Request your credit report once every 12 months from each credit bureau
Check for inaccurate information in credit reports such as misspelled names, wrong addresses, incorrect employer information, credit cards, and loans reported that do not belong to you, or credit inquiries that were not initiated by you. Consider using a credit monitoring service that track the information found in your report. There are free and paid services available.
Dispose of financial statements, credit card statements, pay stubs, bank records properly
Blackout any identifying information such as your name, address, and account numbers. Get yourself a good black marker. Then, shred the documents.
Watch out for fake websites that look like your financial institution’s website
Never click on a link in an email that sends you to a login request. Always go directly to the website and verify the URL before trying to log in or use the app. You can also help others by reporting emails that do not seem legitimate to your financial institution. This can help them identify potential threats and shut down fraudulent websites.
Do not reply to an email requesting verification of accounts
Financial institutions and government agencies will never request to verify your personal information through email. If you’re in doubt, find the number of the creditor or agency requesting the information from a verifiable website and inquire about the email. Again, never respond to unsolicited emails requesting personal information verification. This includes Facebook or social media verifications that you did not initiate.
Don’t fall for telephone calls or text message scams
If you receive an unsolicited phone call asking to verify your personal information, request their information and call them back. If a person is purporting to be your bank, call your bank directly by visiting their website or finding the number of the credit card company’s call center on the back of the card. Also, be mindful of text messages with links that direct you to verify your information.
Additionally, the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers through email, telephone calls or text messages or social media. Know the tell-tale signs of tax scams to keep your information safe.
There are things you can do to lessen the possibility of identity theft and fraud as listed above. However, companies, like Equifax who reported that over 147 million people’s personal information was stolen, can be hacked. The unfortunate reality is that identity thieves will either rummage through your garbage, send you bogus email and make threatening phone calls or hack companies for your personal information. You can make it harder for them by safeguarding your personal information and enlisting the services of free credit report monitoring services and check the financial marketplace for services that may better meet your needs.