By Sam Shumway
AARP Wyoming

 

A recent report by AARP suggests consumers have grown overwhelmed by attempts to protect their online identity and believe identity theft and exploitation of their credit is inevitable. As a result, the survey suggests consumers aren’t working as hard to keep their online identities safe as they should.

AARP is trying to help its members fight back by offering three basic tips for keeping yourself safe online. They include:  using seperate passwords for your online accounts, ordering a credit freeze, and setting up digital access to online bank accounts.

Tips for Safe Online Identity

Sam Shumway State Director, AARP Wyoming

Use Separate Passwords – Make sure you use unique passwords for each of your online accounts. That way, if one account is hacked, it does not put your other accounts at risk.

It used to be something of a running joke to make the password to your online accounts “password,” just for the sake of having to remember one password. However, data suggests the word, “password,” is the most common password in the world. A recent survey by AARP shows 48 percent of consumers use the same password for more than one online account.

The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse suggests there have been over 2,000 data breaches in the US since 2015 impacting over 7 billion online records. When there is a data breach, the online thieves get your username and password and begin to try using it on other websites, such as banking sites and credit card sites. This gives them access to your credit and your cash. That is why changing up passwords becomes such an important part of protecting yourself online.

Order a Freeze – Put a security freeze in place with the three credit reporting bureaus so that no one can access your credit file or open a new credit account with your information. For a guide to the process, visit www.aarp.org/CreditFreeze. Traditionally there has been a fee for placing a freeze on your credit report, but beginning later this month the process is free thanks to legislation passed by Congress in May.

Set up Digital Access – Set up online access to all of your financial accounts – bank accounts, credit cards, 401(k)s, etc. — and regularly monitor the accounts so you can stay up-to-date on all transactions and recognize any fraudulent activity that may occur. AARP reports just 43 percent of respondents to its recent survey have online access to their bank accounts to monitor the accounts.

To learn more

If you want to test your knowledge of ways to keep yourself safe online, feel free to take AARP’s Digital Identity IQ Quiz, consisting of eight true-or-false questions. Among the quiz results from AARP’s recent polling:

  • Only one-third of respondents (29 percent) were aware that a fraud alert will not prevent their credit file from being shared with potential creditors. A fraud alert does not block potential new credit, but places a comment on your history so that creditors will contact you prior to opening a new account.
  • Just half of respondents (49 percent) know that purchasing ID theft monitoring services does not prevent identity thieves from stealing your identity. Most ID theft monitoring services will notify individuals if someone is attempting to open new credit in their name, however it won’t prevent it from happening.
  • Only about half (48 percent) of respondents know that when it comes to protecting yourself from fraud, a debit card is not as safe as a credit card. Consumers are responsible for no more than $50 of fraudulent charges on a credit card; however, if money is stolen from a bank account through a debit card, there are no protections on that money.

FraudWatch Network

The AARP Fraud Watch Network launched in 2013 as a free resource for people of all ages. Consumers may sign up for “Watchdog Alert” emails that deliver information about scams, or call a free helpline at 877-908-3360 to speak with volunteers trained in fraud counseling. The Fraud Watch Network website provides information about fraud and scams, prevention tips from experts, an interactive scam-tracking map, fun educational quizzes, and video presentations featuring Fraud Watch Network Ambassador Frank Abagnale.

Abagnale, the renowned fraud expert whose personal story was depicted in the hit movie “Catch Me If You Can,” is also host of an AARP weekly podcast series, “The Perfect Scam,” that launched earlier this year.

Sam Shumway is the state director for AARP Wyoming, an organization with 87,000 members in Wyoming,which seeks to better the lives of all citizens age 50 and over. To contact Shumway, call 307-432-5816 or write to him at:  sshumway@aarp.org.