According to financial advisory firm Javelin Strategy & Research, almost a third (30%) of all American consumers were notified their data had been breached at some time in 2017. A data breach is a type of electronic theft — hackers grabbing names, email addresses, phone numbers, bank account numbers, or other personal information.
Analysts say hackers use cutting edge technology to break into computer systems and gather lists of information. Companies, in turn, don’t have strong enough protection to ward off the hackers. People, too, need to know what to look out for to make sure they’re safe from identity theft. Here’s a few key factors to watch for:
It’s a useful piece of information, but it’s also something that you don’t want just anyone to see. Keep your Social Security card in a safe place, and make sure you put it back there every time you take it out. Your Social Security number is only used by a few government agencies and businesses, and they will have disclosure text that states when you have to provide a Social Security number.
Firewalls and virus protection programs offer online security, a block between your computer, phone, or tablet and the internet. Nearly every computer comes with basic security software, and you can download several virus protection programs online for free (for your home computer; businesses need to purchase the software).
If you don’t change the settings on your security programs, they’ll probably automatically update, keeping you protected from the latest attacks. But don’t just “set it and forget it.” Take a little time to research antivirus programs, to make sure the one you’re using is effective enough to keep hackers away. If not, download a better one and start using it instead. Don’t forget to uninstall the one that’s no longer getting the job done, so the two programs don’t conflict with one another.
Your credit report features your entire financial history, from mortgages and rent to credit cards and arrest record. Three companies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — assemble the reports, and you’re legally permitted one free report from each company once per year. Treat them like you do a credit card statement: look at each entry and make sure it is what you’re expecting. If someone’s stolen your personal information and set up a new bank or store account for themselves, you’ll see it on the credit report.
Once you’re satisfied your accounts are accurate and secure, it’s time to get rid of the paperwork you no longer need. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has a few suggestions: