5 Important Steps You Can Do To Reduce Identity Theft and Fraud Risk

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

The recent Equifax global settlement in connection to a massive data breach, only proves that identity theft is almost impossible to avoid. As security information experts continuously work hard to protect our sensitive information, cybercriminals also work double-time to find security loopholes to steal our information. Although it’s almost impossible to avoid identity theft and fraud, there are steps we can do to reduce its risks.   

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently said in a press release that the consumer credit reporting agency could pay up to $700 million for failing to protect the sensitive information of millions of consumers from a data breach that happened nearly two years ago. The FTC believed that names and birth dates of approximately 147 consumers and 145.5 million Social Security numbers have been compromised.

As a consumer, it’s important that you do your part to keep your sensitive information safe from thieves. Nowadays, identity theft is becoming rampant online with the use of computer and mobile devices. To reduce your risk of becoming an identity theft victim, the FTC has suggested steps to keep your devices secure:

  1. Install security software – Make sure that all your devices have anti-virus, anti-spyware, and firewall software that is always updated. The FTC also recommends installing OS security patches updates to protect your devices from possible intrusions and infections that may compromise the information stored in your devices. There are several free anti-virus software programs you can use.
  2. Be cautious with the emails you receive – Phishing emails steal your information including your passwords when you open and respond to a seemingly shady email. To avoid this, the FTC suggests not to open files, download files, or click links contained in emails sent by strangers. Be suspicious of emails that are riddled with grammatical errors and misspellings as they are likely phishing emails.
  3. Be cautious when using public Wi-Fi connections – Refrain from using Wi-Fi hotspots in coffee shops, hotels, library, airport, and other public places if you’re going to send your personal information. The FTC recommends using a secure wireless network and an encrypted website to keep your information protected.
  4. Think twice when saving information on mobile devices – While it’s convenient for many to save their information to mobile devices, you may want to exclude usernames and passwords that you use to access your finances, the FTC recommends. If your mobile device is stolen, thieves will find it difficult or even impossible to access your sensitive information.
  5. It pays to read privacy policies – A typical privacy policy has an average of 2,500 words and will take you about 10 minutes to read. Understanding who, what, why, where, and how your data will be used are just a few important things you need to know from privacy policy. The FTC recommends considering doing business elsewhere if you don’t see or understand the privacy policy of a particular website.

6 important steps to take after suspecting identity theft

Unexplainable bank account transactions, check refusals from merchants, and unusual credit card billings are just some of the warning signs of identity theft. If you think that your sensitive information has been compromised, Equifax has provided important actions you can take:

  1. Get in touch with the financial company’s fraud department where you suspect the identity theft has occurred.
  2. Put your credit reports in all major credit bureaus on a one-year fraud alert.
  3. Use a Lock & Alert app to either lock or freeze your credit reports in all major credit bureaus. Credit bureaus normally charge a fee if you request them to freeze your credit reports.
  4. Submit an ID theft affidavit at the Federal Trade Commission and seek a recovery plan.
  5. Report the potential identity theft to the local police.
  6. Continuously monitor your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion after doing the previous steps.

Equifax learned of the massive hacking in 2017, a few months after the FTC alerted them of serious security that could affect their database. As part of the settlement, the FTC requires Equifax to give six free credit reports to all U.S. consumers, each year for seven years, starting on January 2020. The six annual free credit reports will be an addition to the free annual credit report provided by Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.