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Personal Finance Identity Theft -7 Preventative Steps

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Cyber Hacks & Identity Theft -7 Preventative Steps to Take Now

Innovation, apps, artificial intelligence and algorithms are changing our daily lives and how we connect with the world right from our smart phones. The 2001 movie Minority Report may be right around the corner in the next decade with digital billboards at storefronts identifying us through face recognition while pitching us curated goods and services.

The scary part of the new wave of human – tech integration is losing the integrity and control of our data and identity. Even with companies we trust, data mining is not always stored securely, safely and privately.

Cyber-attacks are the new “Bonnie & Clyde” heists of the 21st century. Will you be next? Notable recent heists (hacks) include: Adobe (2013) Target (2013) Yahoo (2104) IRS (2015) Facebook/Cambridge (2016) Equifax (2017) Marriott(2018). Facebook/ FaceApp (2019) Capital One (2019).

There is no knowing where your kids, parents or your own data and face may end up, whether training some AI facial-recognition algorithm, to ending up on a Moscow billboard pitching a new vodka.

Now would be the time to take action through preventative measures to protect your face, wallet, data and digital footprint. The next time you are binging on Netflix, talking to Alexa or paying your bills online, consider creating a solid security baseline, like ‘cyber hygiene’ for your digital and financial DNA.

Consider that all criminals need to impersonate you is your date of birth and Social Security number, the first which many people have right on their Facebook page. Thieves have been fraudulently ‘ringing-up’ goods and services from fancy Rolexes to major elective medical procedures. Getting contacted by a hospital for significant money owed on a plastic surgery bill in your own name may be one call you do not want to get.

Identity theft could end up being catastrophic to your financial life from the next time you go to buy a car to even applying for a new job which requires a background check. Consider the following 7 steps to help protect yourself from identity theft and fraud.

1. Be Vigilant:
Make sure to question every business or organization up front you deal with – and ask if it is required (or optional) for you to submit your 9 digits. When surfing the web, make sure the websites you are visiting are secure and take every precaution when you input your PINs, passwords and account numbers.

Many times, thieves can get your social security number from organizations you personally affiliate with such as a college, sports league, synagogue, church, fitness club, utility provider, cell-phone company, landlord, property manager, hospital, medical office or insurer.

2. Update Passwords and Authentication
Use secure (non-obvious) passwords to protect yourself and change these passwords periodically. Compromised data can be utilized by criminals to impersonate you by circumventing online systems and call centers for verification purposes. Utilize biometric authentication, such as fingerprint or facial recognition on your devices if built in, backed by a seriously strong pass-code.

Contact your banks and financial institutions and ask them to set up a “two-factor” authentication for your accounts if possible. With two-factor authentication, your financial institution will text you a special code to use every time you log on or every time you log on from an unrecognized computer.

3. Install Protection
Install antivirus or even an entire security suite of protection services to your computers. Some security suites include antitheft protection such as Microsoft BitLocker’s full volume encryption. There are also programs that can lock down a lost or stolen laptop or phone and even help recover it remotely.

4. Monitor your data:
Utilize credit monitoring services. Most of the main credit bureaus (Equifax, Transunion, Experian) allow one free credit check per year. By requesting one report every four months, you can stay up to date on your credit score year-round. The most common website from which consumers can receive free credit reports is AnnualCreditReport.com.

It’s a good habit to regularly check your credit reports for errors and for accounts you don’t recognize. Consider that credit monitoring does not prevent ID theft; it simply alerts you when events occur that may impact your credit.

5. Freeze your credit:
Whether or not you have been impacted by identity theft, consider placing a “freeze” on your credit with all of the major credit reporting agencies. (Equifax, Transunion, Innovis, Experian.) Freezing your credit helps prevent criminals from opening accounts in your name and going on a shopping spree- but may not protect you from the majority of financial crimes that could happen to you. Just remember the next time you give permission for a company to check your credit score you will need to contact all the bureaus to provide a temporary one day lift of your freeze.

6. Shred documents
Clean out your wallet or pocketbook often. Remove seldom used credit cards and cancel those you no longer need.
Look over your bills and credit card statements to make sure nothing is out of the ordinary. Don’t’ leave mail for long periods of time in your mailbox and make sure to shred documents that contain sensitive information.

7. Watch out for Trojans and Phishing

A Trojan is any program that tricks you into thinking you have received genuine software when in fact its malicious. Many times, criminals duplicate major bank sites trick people to enter their sensitive data and passwords. Phishing is when you receive a malicious link from someone that redirects you to malicious websites owed by hackers and bot-masters.

Whether from your mobile phone or a PC at home, work or even while on vacation on a cruise ship computer station, phishers are looking for you. Don’t give out personal information to unsecure websites or click links in emails you do not completely recognize

In all of these instances, “an ounce of prevention may be worth more than a pound of cure with the acceleration of data being compromised by major companies and our increased reliance to integrate tech into our daily lives.

Taking preventative action today may save you a huge amount of time and money and stress-  trying to fix problems after they occur.

For more information on our firm or to request a complementary investment and retirement check-up with Jon W. Ulin, CFP®, please call us at (561) 210-7887 or email [email protected]

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The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

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