Ernenwein & Johnson, LLP

Identity theft: How to protect yourself

Cyberattacks are increasingly common. Data security specialists struggle to keep up with ever-more sophisticated fraudsters. Facebook, Marriott, Equifax, Uber and more have all recently fallen victim to massive data breaches, potentially exposing users’ sensitive information.

You work hard for your money. With so many instances of potential vulnerability, how can you protect yourself in the digital age?

What is identity theft?

As defined by the U.S. government, identity theft is any instance where “someone steals your personal information to commit fraud.”

Identity thieves may use the information they gather to apply for credit under your name, file taxes, get medical services or open other accounts posing as you. This has the potential to ruin your credit and pile on massive amounts of debt.

Identifying identity theft

There are many ways in which you could find out that your personal information is compromised. Sometimes your bank or credit card company might call you to say they have detected suspicious activity on your accounts. But other times it may go unnoticed longer.

If you receive unexpected calls from debt collectors, get bills for purchase you didn’t make, get denied for a loan or see your credit score unexpectedly drop, these are all signs you might be an identity theft victim.

Protect yourself

While it’s impossible to avoid all situations in which you might fall prey to an identity thief, there are precautions you can take to protect yourself:

  • Monitor accounts: Regularly check your credit score using any number of free online services, review your credit card statements each month and keep a close eye on your bank accounts.
  • Stay secure: Stay up to date on anti-virus and anti-spyware software on all devices you use to access financial records or make online purchases. Keep the firmware on your smartphone up to date. Use strong passwords and encryption where possible.
  • Keep records: Keep both hardcopies and digital copies of your financial records in a secure place. Keep copies of your driver’s license, passport, credit card numbers and bank accounts there. Also, hang on to any evidence you might have of suspicious activity or possible fraud.
  • Be vigilant: Stay abreast of the news. If you see in the news that a financial institution with which you do business has a data breach, be on high alert.
  • Act fast: If you suspect something is amiss, trust your instincts. At the first sign of identity theft, contact your bank, your credit card companies and any other lenders. The faster you get on it, the better the chance there is to minimize damage.

Seek help

Identity theft is a serious crime, and the repercussions are far reaching. Children and the elderly are especially vulnerable to fraud, so look out for your loved ones. If you fall victim to identity theft, it’s a good idea to seek legal counsel. An attorney has the potential to return any stolen money and limit the damage to your credit.

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