Your identity is one of the most valuable things you own. It’s important to keep it from being stolen by someone who could potentially harm your good name and financial well-being.
The good news — you can protect yourself against most forms of identity theft related to credit cards, debit cards and savings accounts by first educating yourself. Start with these 10 ways you can help yourself avoid becoming a victim:
1. Monitor your bank statements, credit card statements and credit report.
Review your recent transactions at least once or twice a week by looking at your checking, savings and credit card accounts online. This is the best way to look out for and prevent fraud in your accounts. Sometimes a fraudster will make one small purchase to test whether it will go through unnoticed before moving on to larger purchases. If you regularly check your accounts, you could catch these small purchases before the larger ones are made. You can also monitor any auto-deductions you might have authorized and ensure they are carried through correctly.
Per federal law, you are entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the national credit-reporting agencies. Include a reminder on your calendar so you won’t forget to make the annual request.
2. Become familiar with the online fraud policies and recommendations of your financial institution.
CresCom Bank takes identity theft seriously and has prepared several short videos about protecting yourself against fraudulent emails disguised as official messages, Internet tools that can steal your identity, telephone scams and more. And for businesses, there are ways you can better safeguard sensitive data in your files and computers. Learn practical steps you can take in this video.
3. Use strong and unique usernames, passwords and security questions.
It’s recommended you change your passwords every six to 12 months. Think of uncommon answers to the security questions, and don’t list the names of your pets, your Social Security number or your mobile number. Think of combinations of numbers, symbols and words. If you have trouble thinking of a unique password, see our recommendations.
4. Shred important documents with sensitive/private information.
Over 15 million consumers lost $16 billion to identity fraud in 2016. That’s according to the 2017 Identity Fraud Study by Javelin Strategy & Research. To protect yourself, your business and your customers, it’s necessary that you shred any documents containing personal information as soon as they are no longer needed.
5. Use an identity theft protection service.
Per Consumer Affairs, enrolling in an identity theft protection service can help consumers identify abnormal activity regarding their credit cards, bank accounts, Social Security information and more, as well as help them repair and resolve issues related to identity theft. There are different types of service offerings related to identity theft protection, including credit monitoring, ID theft prevention, ID theft repair and full-service ID theft protection. You can choose solely credit monitoring or Social Security number monitoring, or opt for more comprehensive monitoring that includes finances, credit cards, medical history and more. Another form of added protection when you travel is using travelers checks, which aren’t tied to your bank account or personal information.
6. Have fraud alerts and/or credit freezes placed.
If your identity has been stolen or if you’re simply looking to protect yourself from ID theft, consider placing a credit freeze, also called a security freeze, on your credit report. This won’t allow lenders and creditors to pull your credit report or credit score, and applications for credit will be denied because a credit check would be required. See the Federal Trade Commission website for more information on how to place a freeze on your credit reports through all three nationwide credit-reporting companies.
A fraud alert can be placed on your credit report, at no charge, so that creditors will take added precautions to verify your identity before extending credit. Contact one of the nationwide credit-reporting companies to initiate one of these.
7. Don't check your accounts at work.
While your employer might have a secure network, it’s still safer to avoid checking your accounts on your work computer. Wherever you log into accounts, protect your online info by clearing logins and passwords, and pay for your purchases with credit cards instead of debit cards. With your debit card, you could inherently face a fight to get your money back, while a credit card issuer has more resources in the fight to get its money back.
8. Visit ATMs and other purchase terminals in more secure or monitored locations.
You never know if you’re being watched, so take extra precaution and use an ATM in a secure location, such as inside a bank branch. Don’t take chances at a convenience store or an isolated ATM in a random location.
9. Opt out of overdraft protection.
Be more disciplined with your spending and opt out of overdraft protection. If a large, fraudulent transaction comes through on your credit or debit card without your knowledge, it could overdraw your account. But if you don’t have overdraft protection, then the transaction is likely to be declined instead.
10. Verify your mailing address with the post office and financial institutions.
Something you might not have thought about is to verify your mailing address with the post office or your financial institutions. Identity thieves could complete change of address forms under your name so that you are unaware of any new credit lines or delinquent credit notices.
If you have questions or concerns about identity theft prevention, please call 1-855-CRESCOM (273-7266) during normal banking hours. If you prefer, you may also contact us online through our contact form or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.