Identity theft is a growing threat for American consumers and the businesses and financial institutions tasked with safeguarding customer data and information. In the wake of the Experian data breach, which exposed millions of Americans’ personal information and credit profiles to hackers, the need to understand and safeguard against identity theft in the digital age has never been greater. But you don’t have to be an advanced cybersecurity expert to protect your own and your family’s identities and personal information from hackers and criminals on the internet. There are a number of steps that you can take to protect your identity from theft and data breaches as you continue to use social media platforms and do business online.
How to Protect Yourself From Identity Theft
After the scope of the Experian data breach was revealed last year, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission outlined a number of simple, common sense solutions that every American consumer should adopt in order to protect their personal information online and limit their exposure to data breaches and hackers:
Check Your Credit Report on a Regular Basis
You wouldn’t dream of going months or years without checking on the status of your checking or credit card accounts, right? Yet, despite the fact that the information contained in your credit reports at the three major credit bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax and Experian) is essential to your financial health and ability to borrow money and apply for more credit, many Americans do not check their credit reports on a regular basis. At a minimum, you should take advantage of the free credit reports available to consumers at least once a year.
Sign Up for Credit Alerts
Many banks and credit card companies offer their customers free credit alerts that inform you of any changes to your credit file as they happen — from individual purchases to inquiries from potential creditors or new accounts opened in your name. Credit alerts are an easy way to stay on top of your credit profile with all three credit bureaus and to know if someone has tried to open a new account under your name without authorization.
Use Strong Passwords
Your password is your first line of defense against hackers and identity thieves. Always use a strong, unique password for each account that is difficult to guess, and try to minimize accessing your protected accounts on shared computers. Remembering multiple passwords can be daunting, but resist the urge to use the same password for multiple accounts. Also, change your passwords often for an added level of security.
Security tip: Set a calendar reminder to check your accounts and change your passwords at regular intervals, and report any suspicious activity to your bank or credit card company right away.
Use RFID Blockers
One popular method of identity theft is known as a “car skimmer scam.” A card skimmer is a small hidden device that collects card information, such as credit card numbers and names associated with those cards. More often than not, this information is used to either print and create fake cards or to make expensive purchases online. In some extreme cases, passport information has been stolen through skimming scams.
Card skimmers have been found in everything from ATMs to gas pumps and they can even be turned into a handheld device to scan cards handed to people.
Thankfully, there are numerous products you can buy that help prevent skimmers from collecting your information. One such product is known as an RFID blocker. These products can come in the form of a card that acts as a shield and even entire wallets or backpacks that completely block RFID signals from being tracked. These are great products to invest in, especially if you are traveling abroad.
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