Last week, Washington Post reported that Marriott International disclosed a massive data breach in which hackers had access to the reservation systems of many of its hotel chains for the past four years, a breach that exposed the private details of up to 500 million people. This data breach – one of the largest in history – makes it clear that in today’s world our data and personal information is more vulnerable than ever before. Once your identity has been used fraudulently, it can take months and even years to correct it entirely. Unfortunately, credit and I.D. theft can be very difficult to “unwind”. And most people don’t realize their identity and credit have been compromised until they receive a bill from a new account that was opened by the thief or they notice their credit statements have unauthorized charges.
Tips for Prevention
CREDIT MONITORING – Sign up for automated credit monitoring and alerts. There is no way for you to watch your credit 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. IdentityIQ.com will help you monitor this information. IdentityIQ will alert you of unusual or suspicious events that may occur. This is your best first line of defense.
CREDIT REPORTS – Credit monitoring is not foolproof. Review your credit report no less than once every 6 months. This is a great way to scan for problems and then take action.
LOSS OF CREDIT CARDS – It is critical that you notify your bank or credit card company immediately upon noticing a missing credit card – minutes count. It may prevent someone else from using it fraudulently.
QUESTIONABLE BUSINESSES – If you’re concerned about the reputation of a business, don’t use your credit card. If you are making an online purchase, make sure the vendor is real and that the website’s checkout process is secure. Credit theft often occurs when you hand your credit card to someone to pay for something and the card leaves your view. A great example is paying for a meal at a restaurant. It only takes seconds to take a photo of the front and back of your card before returning it to you.
KEEP TRACK OF YOUR CREDIT CARDS – Remember to get your credit card back after purchasing goods or services. Don’t leave your card in a hotel room.
RECEIPTS – It’s rare, but some receipts may still show your full credit card number. When you see this, make sure you save it securely or shred it before throwing it out.
MONITOR YOUR STATEMENTS – If you don’t get a billing statement on time, notify the credit card issuer immediately and make sure nothing has been changed such as your address. Check your billing statements carefully upon receipt to make sure all charges are ones you made. Errors or changes that don’t belong to you should be reported to your credit card provider as soon as possible.
CONFIDENTIAL – Do not put your credit card account number on the checks you use to pay your monthly bills. The credit card agency can always trace your check through your name and/or the address information on the check. If you feel you must put a number on your check, only use the last four digits.
SHRED IT – Do not throw away canceled checks, old credit cards, financial statements, confidential letters, or pre-approved offers for credit cards. Use a good quality cross shredding machine to destroy them first. Thieves do go through trash (they’re called dumpster divers) to assemble information they can use to steal your identification.
YOUR MAIL – I.D. thieves love old fashion street mailboxes. They can simply take your mail and build a profile by piecing together information in your mailbox. Use a quality mailbox that locks.
APPLYING FOR CREDIT BY MAIL – Have you ever received an application and offer for credit by mail? This is another way I.D. thieves can access all your information. What you don’t know is that the return envelope has been altered to come to them. When applying for a credit card, check the return address on the enclosed envelope. If there is a sticker with a return address placed on the envelope, contact the card issuing company to verify the correct address. Also, consider applying by phone or online.
YOU WON! – Do not give your card number or personal information to anyone calling on the telephone offering you prizes, gifts, or even representing themselves as your creditor. If you think the person is your creditor, simply tell them you will call back and then only call back using a number you know is valid for your lender.
CELL PHONE – It’s very hard today, but you need to be aware that information in your smartphone and conversations can be monitored. Data can be stolen unless you use a landline.
SIGN YOUR CREDIT CARD? – Credit card providers recommend that you sign the back of your credit cards as soon as you receive them. The theory is that a retailer can match the signature on the back of the credit card to the signature on your credit card purchase slip. This is moot because an I.D. thief attempting to use your credit card would just practice using your signature. Other common-sense schools of thought are to write SEE I.D. on the back of all your credit cards. This is a message to the retailer that they should view your state issued I.D. card and match your ID & signature that way. In our tests, 82% of retailers will then ask for your I.D., which may seem like an inconvenience, but creates a great line of defense against fraudulent usage.
PASSWORDS – Do not write your PIN or password on your credit card or debit card. Don’t even carry it with you. If your purse or wallet is stolen they will have everything they need. When entering a PIN number into an ATM or gasoline pump, cover the keypad with your hand, purse, or wallet. This will keep cameras or surveillance systems from recording your information. Keep in mind that a good telephoto camera lens can easily capture your PIN number from 100 yards away. Yes, this happens.
RECORDS – Keep a list of all of your credit information in a secure place at home or in a safety deposit box. Unless you know how to secure data on your computer, avoid using a computer because it has the highest potential to be accessed through spyware. The list should include all of your account numbers, expiration dates, and phone numbers for each account.
LIMIT WHAT YOU CARRY – Don’t carry credit cards with you that you don’t intend to use. Leave them in a safe place at home or in a safety deposit box where you can access them if others that you carry are lost or stolen.
LENDING YOUR CARDS – This is never ever a good idea. Most people will not practice the safety habits you would expect, and this could result in lost, stolen, or fraudulently used credit cards.
MOVING? – If you move, notify your creditors in advance to assure all credit card statements, offers, and other correspondences don’t end up in the wrong hands.
TRAVELING? – Be sure to place a pause on mail delivery so mail doesn’t sit in your mailbox any longer than necessary. Also, inform all creditors where you will be and when. That way you can use your card wherever you plan to be, but you’ll be protected if charges come through from somewhere you reported you would not physically be.
This checklist is a list worth keeping close. It’s a collection of best practices that will keep you and your loved ones as safe as possible from the many forms of identity theft and the many tools people use to access your information.
© 2018 IdentityIQ, LLC