As a victim of identity theft, you are guilty until you can prove your innocence
If you’ve never been a victim of an information security breach, or had your credit card data compromised, or even paid much attention to the importance of securing and protecting your personal information, chances are you may now have a different perspective.
You and your family are at risk of suffering a severe and significant impact on your daily lives when your personal information gets into the hands of criminals who have no regard for your credibility, your good name, or the work that you have put into building your reputation.
To make matters worse, as a victim of identity theft, you are guilty until you can prove your innocence. Think about that statement. As a victim of this crime, you must prove that you were not the perpetrator of the crime before you are absolved of responsibility!
This is serious stuff and, at this point, it has negatively impacted you either directly or indirectly. As a consumer, you now have less convenience, fewer choices, and higher costs of services.
I wish I could tell you that I have an answer that will keep your information safe no matter what and protect you and your family from the grief and damage that a future information security breach will cause you. I cannot.
Cybercrime is a crime of opportunity. Unfortunately, the bad guys will always have the advantage over the rest of us because they have a singular focus (stealing our information), while we are busy working on our careers, raising our families, and trying to make a positive contribution to our communities.
There are some things that you can do, however, to make it a little more difficult for the bad guys to achieve their objective. You may have heard one or two of the following suggestions before, but they are good recommendations and worth repeating. Here are my top five:
Freeze Your Credit
Freeze. Freeze your credit right now. Don’t simply hire a monitoring service. Don’t just place a fraud alert on your record. Freeze it. There are three credit bureaus in the United States that collect all of your information and, amongst other things, rate you on your credit worthiness. If you apply for or currently carry any form of standard credit (i.e., mortgage, auto loan, credit card, etc.), that information is recorded at these bureaus along with personal information such as your social security number, your birth date, your address, etc.
By freezing your credit at each of these bureaus, you will prevent anyone from opening credit in your name under false pretenses. Freezing your credit does not impact any of your current relationships with your credit union, bank, or credit card company.
When you freeze your credit, you will obtain a PIN number that you can use if you ever need to unfreeze your credit (the only time that you would need to do so would be if you were applying for a new loan.) It only takes a few minutes to either freeze or unfreeze your credit, but it has a lifetime of benefits as it effectively shuts down identity thieves from posing as you to create accounts and liabilities in your name for their own illicit purposes.
The three credit bureaus are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Google these sites and follow the instructions for placing a freeze on your credit.
Don’t Store Personal Information Online
Don’t store your credit card information or any other personal information on any website that you visit or shop through. I know that it can be a pain in the neck to remember passwords and type in your credit card number when you want to purchase something online, but the more places you store your personal information, the more opportunities there are for thieves to steal it. Every site gives you an option that allows that site to store or remember your information. Please decline it.
Control Your Online Credit Card Use
Select one card for your online purchases and consistently use that one card when you shop online. Not all breaches occur online or through websites, but an awful lot of them do. By limiting the information that you make available over the internet, you will also be limiting your chance of suffering a breach. Plus, if the credit card used for your online purchases is ever breached, you will only need to temporarily close that one card rather than deactivating multiple cards.
Mix It Up and Use Cash
Be a little more selective when you use your cards, especially your debit card. Instead of using a credit or debit card for every single purchase you make at every store or restaurant you go to, think about paying cash for at least your smaller transactions. Every swipe of the card creates a transaction that travels through several electronic portals and outlets (retailers, payment processors, card issuers, banks, etc.). So, every time you use your card, you create multiple new opportunities for thieves to find and steal your information. Limit the transactions and you will also limit those opportunities.
Back to the debit card. If you claim that there is a fraudulent charge on your credit card and you catch it early enough, that charge can often be removed from your bill before you must pay for it, but that is not true with a debit card. If your debit card is subject to fraud, your actual funds begin to go missing before you know that you are a victim. I don’t know about you, but if I were given the choice, I would much rather discover a fraudulent charge on my credit card and go through the process of getting it removed than I would to discover a fraud that was created through the use of my debit card number and then try to get my money back.
Review Your Statements
Lastly, and this is the most important step of them all, take an active role in the management of your accounts. The best way to do that is extremely simple. Review your statements.
When you do, check your balances. Keep track of your transactions. Ensure the validity of the information that you are reviewing.
I am utterly amazed at the number of people who do not review their statements. Those statements are provided for a very important reason and that reason is to give you access to information that is, or at least should be, vitally important to you. How much money do you have? How much money do you owe? When is your bill due?
It is not acceptable to put the management of your personal finances on auto pilot, auto pay, or auto deduct, especially in the age of the information super highway when anything and everything that you ever wanted to know is within seconds of your brain. You want to avail yourself of the financial conveniences of online banking and electronic bill pay? Great, but you still need to review all of that information for accuracy and remain alert for anything that is out of place or unexpected.
No one will ever be a greater advocate for you than you! Oh, and while you are advocating, please advocate for stricter guidelines and tougher laws that will require the businesses that have access to our personal information treat it with the responsibility and care it deserves.
his article is part of Scott Arney's educational series, entitled The Serial Decision Maker.