How to Help Protect Against Fraud
If you worry about having your personal and financial information stolen, it’s a smart move to learn about fraud protection.
When criminals steal data from a retailer or government agency, your personal information might be part of the haul. And there are a lot of other ways your key details can be snatched—from online scams to stolen mail.
That raises a couple of important questions: What can you do to guard against becoming a victim? What should you do after criminals strike?
Here are some of the basics you should know about fraud protection.
How breaches lead to a stolen identity
Data breaches pepper the news. Cybercriminals have attacked all kinds of targets, including major retailers, government organizations, and healthcare providers. Often, the criminals aren’t after the contents of a company’s coffers, but, rather, the information—your personal data—in its electronic files. By stealing data that may include customer names, addresses, Social Security numbers, and birthdates, the thieves can try to steal people’s identities.
And by stealing people’s identities, thieves can take the next step to identity fraud. It’s big business. Nearly 15 billion dollars were stolen from identity theft victims in 2017, according to a 2018 online survey of 540 U.S. adults, conducted for Symantec by The Harris Poll.
How can I help protect my ID?
The U.S. Department of Justice defines identity theft and identity fraud as “all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person's personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain.”
So, a criminal uses your stolen personal data to recreate your identity for himself. That’s identity theft. And then, through identity theft, he enriches himself posing as you. That’s identity fraud. How does he enrich himself? He could take out a bank loan in your name. And you might not find out until it’s too late—perhaps when the bank sues you for nonpayment on a loan you didn’t even know about.
What can you do to help protect yourself? Well, no one can prevent identity theft. But you can take steps to help protect your personal data. One place to start? The data that’s under your control.
Take basic fraud protection steps
Let’s start with your Social Security number. It’s an important part of your identity, and you want to protect it in every way you can. For instance, remember never to carry your Social Security card with you in your wallet or purse. It’s too easy to lose. And if you lose your wallet, whoever finds it might have access not only to your Social Security number, but also to your driver’s license, which includes your full name, home address and date of birth. That information would give a thief what he might need to steal your identity.
Protect your information at home
Remember to protect important documents that could be stolen from your home. Ensure your mailbox is secure. Shred documents containing personal information before you discard them. Some identity thieves steal from mailboxes and the trash to gather your personal information.
People inside your home can also pose risks. Remember never to let strangers have unfettered access to your living space. This may sound like a no-brainer, but consider repair people, house cleaners, caregivers and others you may not think twice about. Even a relative or friend with financial troubles might resort to identity theft. You don’t want to make yourself an easy target.
Practice safe habits online
Staying safe online is an important defense against identity theft. Some of the steps you can take to protect yourself are simple, but easy to overlook. Take passwords, for instance. If you use the same one on multiple accounts, what happens if one of those accounts is breached? Cybercriminals know it’s common for people to reuse passwords. Often, the thieves will test the login credentials stolen in one data breach on other accounts to see if they’ll work.
You might consider a password manager to help you not only generate a unique password for each of your online accounts, but also to keep track of them on all of your devices. There are many different password managers to choose from. Check out online reviews to figure out which one may work best for you in terms of functionality and cost.
Something else to keep in mind while you’re spending time online is the risk of becoming a victim of a cyber scam, such as a malware attack. Malware is short for malicious software. When criminals find a way to load malware onto your computer—by tricking you into clicking on a link or opening an attachment emailed to you—it can have serious results. The attacker’s motives can vary. Your computer could be used as part of a massive cyberattack. Your files could be encrypted until you pay a ransom. Your credit card numbers and whatever else you type into online forms could be swiped.
And it’s not just computers at risk. Mobile-based data breaches also are increasing. According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, in January 2013, there were 1,038 fraud incidents related to mobile devices. That represents 3.2% of all identity theft incidents reported to the FTC at that time. Three years later, the FTC reported 2,658 such incidents, representing 6.3% of all identity thefts cases sent to the agency.
How data fraud protection helps prevent ID theft
It’s a good idea to focus on fraud protection to help you avoid becoming a victim of identity theft.
Data fraud protection can be defined as the process you take to prevent yourself from becoming a victim of cyber scams or identity theft, says Leslie Thompson, managing principal at Spectrum Management Group in Indianapolis, Indiana.
“Not only are your financial assets at risk when someone assumes your identity, it can also negatively impact your credit, which could prevent you from securing loans, receiving favorable rates on loans or even getting a job,” Thompson says. “If someone uses your identity to secure prescription drugs or medical treatments, it may deny you access to receiving care when needed,” she adds.
Take these 5 steps to report identity theft and add a credit freeze
It’s important to know what to do when identity theft occurs.
“Knowing how to respond and begin the recovery process is crucial for maintaining financial stability,” says Katie Ross, education and development manager at American Consumer Credit Counseling, in Boston. “If you don’t act quickly to halt fraudulent activity, you run the risk of being forced to pay off debts that should never have existed.”
Here are the five steps to take if you’re victimized:
- Contact creditors – Contact the company or companies where you hold accounts you know have been compromised. “Before moving forward, look over your most recent bank statements, check accounts online and request copies of your credit report,” Ross advises. “Finding all of the ways your info was wrongfully used is essential for canceling bogus charges and limiting damage.”
- Report identity theft to the FTC – Go to the Federal Trade Commission’s ID Theft Reporting website to file a report and find other help. “You can also read about resources and further recovery steps,” Ross says. “This can be done completely online, and you can create an account. You’ll then be provided with an individual recovery plan to help with filling out forms and tracking progress.”
- File a police report – After you file with the FTC, you’ll be issued an Identity Theft Affidavit, Ross adds. “Take this to your local police department. File a police report to go with your Identity Theft Affidavit,” she says. “With these forms, you’ll be able to take additional steps to fully recover from ID theft.”
Freeze your credit reports – Once you report a data breach, you may want to freeze your credit reports. Contact each of the three main credit bureaus to report the incident: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. What does a credit freeze do? It limits access to your credit report, making it more difficult for an identity thief to open an account using your information.
- Assess the damage – Know the risk involved in the event of a security breach. Assess the exact data that might have been exposed. Was your Social Security number in the system, your email address, or just a specific credit card?
5 things to boost fraud protection–from passwords to fraud alerts
You’ve reported the data breach. You’ve taken steps to secure your personal identity and your private accounts. Now it’s a good idea to take steps to better protect your personal data from fraud in the future.
Start by making sure to review all of your bank account documentation in the days, weeks and months after a cybersecurity breach. Scrutinize your bank statements and consider using a credit monitoring or identity theft protection service as another means of monitoring your accounts. These can provide a credit alert if someone opens a new account using your personal information.
You may also want to take these steps.
- Use complex and different passwords for each online account – This will minimize the chances that anyone will hack into any of your accounts. And by having different passwords, a breach on one account won’t lead hackers to your others.
- Avoid suspicious websites and links – Be careful about clicking on any hyperlinks and opening attachments. Emails and websites can be made to look like they belong to your bank or other legitimate organizations.
- Don’t give out personal information – Many identity thieves will attempt to pose as a bank or credit card company employee over the phone. Even if you believe the call is authentic, it’s safer to hang up and call back using the phone number listed on bank statements or the back of your credit card.
- Monitor your accounts and your credit report – Checking for suspicious transactions on all of your accounts is an effective protection. You can also pull your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies at least once a year to look for fraudulent accounts opened in your name. This can be done for free once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com.
- Set up fraud alerts – You can set up fraud alerts as part of your online account with many bank, credit card and other financial companies. The alerts will let you know about activity involving your accounts.
Take steps to help keep your personal data safe. Data thieves are out there. It pays to stay vigilant to help protect yourself from identity theft.
Editor’s note: This article was lightly edited and updated on March 15, 2018.
Symantec Corporation, the world’s leading cyber security company, allows organizations, governments, and people to secure their most important data wherever it lives. More than 50 million people and families rely on Symantec’s Norton and LifeLock comprehensive digital safety platform to help protect their personal information, devices, home networks, and identities.