Protecting yourself from identity theft and fraud
Tuesday, October 17, 2017
What you CAN do: options for protecting yourself after a data breach
There are a few different options available to you to protect your personal data from being stolen or from being used for fraud (if already stolen) by hackers. Signal cannot give advice on what members should do, but we suggest members do some research and consider the pros and cons of each available option. What action you choose to take will depend on your level of concern and how much effort you are willing to expend. No option is foolproof or will prevent every kind of fraud, and some are more effective than others in keeping your identity and accounts safe.
Here are some actions to consider:
REVIEW YOUR ACCOUNT STATEMENTS
Read over your credit card and other account statements from the last few months. Look for any transactions you did not initiate, even for small amounts. Store credit cards are particularly likely to be targeted by thieves because many people do not monitor them carefully. Call your card issuer to dispute any charges you think are fraudulent.
REQUEST YOUR CREDIT REPORTS
This is something everyone with a credit report needs to be doing — if you’re not already reviewing your credit reports every year, get started now. Go to https://www.annualcreditreport.com to request them (beware of other sites that may charge you to access your free reports). You may decide to request the three major reports (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) four months apart, so you don’t have to wait a year in between seeing what is being reported.
ENROLL IN CREDIT MONITORING
Credit monitoring won’t prevent anyone from opening a fraudulent account using your personal information, but it should alert you to the fraud soon after it happens, so you can take action to contain the damage. Most credit monitoring services give you monthly access to the three major credit reports, monitor your bank accounts, and may offer other services such as identity monitoring for children.
While credit monitoring services will alert you to many types of identity theft and account fraud, they are not recommended by some consumer groups, such as Consumer Reports, because they do not protect against some key forms of fraud, including:
- someone using your information to apply for a job
- someone using your information to get a cell phone
- someone using your Social Security Number (SSN), but not your name, to open new accounts
Additionally, some services won’t reimburse you for losses incurred due to a theft that happened before you signed up for the service. Another objection to credit monitoring is that it requires turning over your personal information to the monitoring company, which is not appealing to many people concerned about data safety.
With these shortcomings, credit monitoring services should not be considered a complete solution to identity theft, but they may be useful as one part of a strategy to protect your identity.
Equifax has offered free credit monitoring for a year to anyone who asks for it. The service comes with a cost after the first year. If you want to try Equifax’s service, visit https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com. Other companies offer credit monitoring services as well.
A good place to start your research on credit monitoring is The Simple Dollar’s blog post on the subject, which reviews several credit monitoring services and lists the pros and cons of each:
Also check out Investopedia’s resources on the subject: http://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/1011/pros-and-cons-of-credit-monitoring-services.aspx
REQUEST A FRAUD ALERT
With a fraud alert, a creditor may get a copy of your credit report only after they verify your identity. For instance, if you give the credit reporting company your phone number when you set up the fraud alert, creditors must call you to verify your identity before they can open new credit accounts in your name. This is a good way to prevent unauthorized new accounts from being opened, but will not prevent fraud on your existing accounts.
Unfortunately, fraud alerts do not last forever, but they should help in many cases. There are three types available:
Initial Fraud Alert: Use this alert if you aren’t yet a victim of fraud but are concerned about becoming one – for instance, if you lost your wallet or your personal information was stolen in a data breach. It places an alert on your credit report for 90 days.
Extended Fraud Alert: If you are already a victim of identity theft, this type of fraud alert will protect your credit report for seven years. This type of alert is free. Before you request fraud alerts, however, report the identity theft to the FTC: https://www.identitytheft.gov/#what-to-do-right-away.
Active Duty Military Alert: Use this type of fraud alert to protect your credit while deployed. It lasts for one year. Learn more at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0273-active-duty-alerts.
To set up a fraud alert, call each of the nationwide credit reporting companies:
FREEZE YOUR CREDIT
Also called a security freeze, this is the only way to actually prevent someone from using your personal information to open new accounts. Freezing your credit reports does not affect your credit score. Unfortunately, it requires a fair amount of effort.
You must contact each credit reporting company separately to request a freeze on your credit report, and you may be required to pay a fee of $5 to $10 for each freeze. After you request a freeze, the company you contacted will send you a confirmation letter that includes a PIN that you will need in the event you need to lift the freeze — say if you want to apply for a car loan, and want to temporarily lift the freeze for the dealer to run your credit for the loan. You will then have to re-freeze your credit report with that credit reporting company. Lifting the freeze will likely cost a fee, as will re-freezing.
This all sounds like a lot of hassle, but some consider it a small price to pay for keeping your credit secure from thieves. Keep in mind that in some states a freeze will only last for a certain number of years and then will have to be renewed. Other states allow a credit freeze to last indefinitely until the consumer lifts it. Visit https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0497-credit-freeze-faqs for more information.
Use the links and numbers below to request a credit freeze:
Innovis — 1-800-540-2505
CREATE ACCOUNT ALERTS AND CONTROLS
Signal members have several options for creating alerts on their accounts, debit cards, and credit cards:
Signal account alerts: Use the alerts available to you in eBanking to stay on top of what’s happening in your accounts. You can have alerts sent to you by email or by text message. Get alerted when your balance goes below a certain amount, for instance.
Visa® debit and credit card alerts: Set up Visa alerts for your debit or credit card. You can choose to be alerted when your card is used for an online transaction, or if the transaction exceeds a certain amount, etc.
Card Lock app: If you have a Signal credit card issued on or after October 1, 2017, you have access to the Card Lock mobile app. This mobile app allows you not only to block or unblock your Signal credit card, it also allows you to block certain kinds of transactions, such as out-of state, online, or international transactions, or anything above a certain dollar amount. You can also use the app to set up usage alerts for your credit card similar to those available from Visa and in eBanking. See our website for more information.
REMOVE SAVED CARD INFORMATION FROM WEBSITES
If you’ve saved your credit card information to online sites for ease of use, you may be more at risk for those card numbers to be stolen. Preventing future fraud on these cards might require retyping your info every time you need to use them.
IMPROVE YOUR PASSWORDS
Never use personal information like birth dates in email addresses or passwords. If your email address is your name, all an identity thief needs is to crack your password to get into your email account. Even if your email address or account login isn’t easy to guess, a thief might be able to find it out a different way, so reduce your risk by using strong passwords. Use long passwords with a variety of characters, or a long phrase with no spaces (without any of your personal information). Also, don’t use the same password or two for everything — especially for financial accounts. Get a good password app if you need help keeping track of passwords.
DOCUMENT FRAUD INCIDENTS
If you believe your identity has been stolen, make sure to document it. Report the fraud to the FTC and your local police. Get a copy of the police report, and keep all documentation of what happened and the steps you’ve taken to prove your identity and protect your accounts. It’s important to have as much documentation as possible to prove your fraud claims.
Even if you think the latest data breach didn’t include you, it’s wise to be proactive — identity theft is not going away anytime soon. Taking steps now to regularly review your credit reports, or to set up alerts, monitoring, or freezes may save you a lot of headache later on.
If you have any questions about your Signal Financial FCU accounts, please call us at 301-933-9100, ext. 298.
FOR FURTHER READING