For many of us, our lives are increasingly lived online. We connect with family and friends on social media. We work online, and play online. We shop online for everything from coffee creamer to cars. Many of us do much if not all of our financial transactions online.
At the same time, we are constantly hearing of one major data breach after another in which our personal and sensitive information has been compromised. At last count, these breaches had compromised more than two billion records – and that was before the Capital One breach. Our online activities and these data breaches put us all at risk of identity theft and fraud.
Data breaches are security incidences when sensitive, protected or confidential data has been viewed, stolen, or used by individuals unauthorized to do so. This can mean your credit card number has been stolen, or your passwords, your health records, your personal contact information, or even your Social Security number. Once they have that data, scammers often hold onto it, waiting for the worry to die down, and then they start buying and selling data that’s been compromised.
Thieves have stolen personal data the offline way for many years, and still do. They go through people’s trash and recycling, they steal purses and wallets, the steal incoming mail from unlocked mailboxes. It’s just that now that so much of our data live online, we’re that much more at risk of identity theft.
Identity theft (when your data are compromised) often leads to identity fraud (when someone uses your stolen data to open a credit line in your name or withdraw funds from your accounts, for example).
Now, all is not lost. In fact, there are a number of things that you can do to help minimize your chances of falling victim.
- Place a free security freeze on your credit reports with the three major credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. It is the best way to help stop identity thieves from opening new accounts in your name.
- Establish online access to all of your bank accounts, credit cards and retirement accounts and check them frequently. This enables you to review your accounts regularly to watch for suspicious activity. Plus, if you don’t have online access to your accounts, hackers can set up that access, pretending to be you, and drain those accounts.
- Use a password manager. A lot of us tend to use the same password for more than one account. It’s hard to create strong and unique passwords for each online account and remember them all. One option is to use a password manager app that creates and stores your passwords securely in an online vault.
- And if you tend to do anything on free public Wi-Fi that involves a password (even checking email and social media), you’re data are at risk. Purchase a Virtual Private Network that blocks scammers from accessing your data. Or just stick to reading the news and checking the weather.
If you your identity may have been compromised, call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 1-877-908-3360 for guidance and support.