Abacus’s client, Eloisa, was celebrating her 50th birthday on a long-planned trip to New Zealand. Out of the blue, Eloisa’s sister called with vacation-busting news. The police had found copies of Eloisa’s identity information in the hotel room of an identity theft ring. Over the following months (and now years), Eloisa fought a rear-guard action to prevent abuse of her identity: a false tax return filed for an early refund, multiple fraudulent credit cards opened in her name, and even pizzas ordered on a fraudulent credit card for delivery to a prison. Each of us falls into two categories now, those who have had an experience of identity the or those who have and just don’t know it yet.
How can I protect me and my family from a cyber attack or identify theft?
The first step is to freeze your credit.
Freezing your credit is the strongest method to protect your identity. Contact these three credit bureaus to freeze your credit: Equifax.com, Experian.com, and Transunion.com. No one can get credit in your name (including you) when you freeze your credit. You receive a four-digit PIN to unlock your credit for any necessary credit needs such as purchasing a car. Be sure to freeze your elderly parents’ and children’s credit, too.
Select a password manager.
LastPass, 1Password, Dashlane, or Roboform all store and create strong, unique passwords. These programs sync across all your technology devices: phone, computer, iPad, etc.
Enroll in two-factor authentication for accessing your on-line banking, credit card and brokerage accounts.
This process, which requires both a user ID/password and a code sent to a device such as your phone to access your information, safeguards your accounts by adding a layer of security. https://twofactorauth.org
Sign up for www.haveibeenpwned.com.
This website highlights whether your email address or passwords have been part of a data breach or hacking event. You can sign up to receive alerts of any new breaches.
Delete old or unused online accounts.
Do some spring cleaning of your unused or unwanted online accounts. https://backgroundchecks.org/justdeleteme
Keep up to date.
Enough is Enough, is a non-profit dedicated to making the internet safer for children and families. The website has excellent, timely resources for internet safety.
I am concerned about keeping my personal information private. What are some best practices to safeguard my privacy?
Periodically review your personal and your children’s social media settings.
Although tempting, resist sharing background information that might allow another individual to piece together a virtual identity with your information.
You should shred any documents that contain your personal information. You might prefer using a security stamp or roller to redact private information on these documents instead of shredding.
Remove your personal information from the web.
Complete a Google search on you and your family members. If you are uncomfortable with the amount information listed about yourself or your family, you can enroll in a service, like Reputation Defender, to remove this data from the web. The cost ranges from $10 per month up to $10,000 per year if you are an individual with a strong public presence. These services cannot eliminate information but can help manage the challenge.
Never use public WiFi.
Countless individuals have had their emails and other private information hacked simply by using public WiFi. Abacus recommends a virtual private network service (VPN) such as Private Internet Access or Nord VPN.
A week does not go by that Abacus doesn’t receive a call from a client seeking advice on identity the or other internet scams. Many of our recommendations have a “hassle” factor that keeps clients from implementing the strategy until it’s too late. Just as you would secure your home, take steps today to lock the door to your financial life.