identity theft protection

Protect Yourself From Identity Theft

As most of us have seen in the news somewhere by now, Target, Neiman Marcus, Michael’s and their customers experienced a personal data security wake-up call a couple of months ago. Up to 70 million Target customers1 were exposed to potentially damaging personal data theft that could threaten the safety of each shopper’s credit and debit card information.

 

If identity thieves are able to steal your personal information, they can take actions like open accounts in your name, gain access to your medical coverage and even file tax forms to collect your tax return. Identity theft is still on the rise in the U.S., with more than 12 million victims in 2012, one million more than the previous year2.

 

Repairing personal damage associated with identity theft can be very costly to you, in both time and money (e.g., $5,000 on average to an affected consumer, according to the Federal Trade Commission3). So as the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. By managing your personal information carefully and sensibly, you can avoid becoming a victim of ID theft. Here are some tips that may help you reduce the risk of becoming a victim:

 

ID theft protection service?

 

According to Consumer Reports, “about 50 million U.S. consumers spent $3.5 billion in 2010 to buy products that are claimed to protect their identity”. Today, these identity theft protection services typically cost somewhere between $120 and $300 annually4. Implementing some do-it-yourself safeguards can be just as effective in protecting your identity as purchasing a subscription service and will cost a lot less. This is because two-thirds of reported ID theft involves stolen credit and debit card information rather than identities, and your liability for such theft is usually limited to no more than $50 per account. In addition to actively monitoring your credit reports and all your accounts for suspicious activity, here are some things you can do yourself to protect your identity:

 

Cover up your “paper trail”

 

  • Go paperless — Consider enrolling in paperless or online statements for all your accounts. Physical paper statements are more likely to expose you to risk of information theft.

 

  • Shred your documents — Minimize, eliminate or destroy unwanted personal paper records that contain sensitive information. Review everything you normally carry and decide what you can leave at home. For example, you probably rarely need your Social Security card, passport or birth certificate in your daily routine, but those items are like gold to an ID thief, and should be stored in a secure location, along with credit cards or insurance cards that you don’t use regularly.

 

  • Protect your bank account information — When ordering new checks, specify that you want to pick them up in person to keep your checks from sitting in your mailbox.

 

  • Take precautions with your mail — Take outgoing mail, especially bill payments, to USPS collection boxes or the post office to avoid leaving it in an unlocked mailbox. Collect your mail as soon as possible after delivery, and keep track of monthly bills that come in the mail.

 

Protect your identity online and on the phone

 

  • Identity thieves have been known to call households, posing as bank or government representatives. Avoid providing personal information over the phone, unless you initiated the call.

 

  • Also, watch for emails that could be “phishing” for your financial data. Fraud scams are particularly abundant at tax time, when criminals send emails that appear to come from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) asking for your information. The IRS and most financial institutions will never contact consumers via phone or email asking them for personal information, so be especially cautious of those types of calls or emails, and never click on attachments if you are unsure of their origin.

 

  • Based on a user name and password study done last year, 91 percent of users had enlisted one of the 1,000 most common password and another 99.8 percent used one of the most common 10,000 — making theft that much easier. Create passwords using an apparently random mix of letters, numbers and symbols to make it more difficult for identity thieves to discover them. And, when you submit information online, look for a “lock” icon and https indicator on the status bar of your browser to ensure your information will be secure when it’s transmitted.

 

Visa and MasterCard credit card protection

 

With both Visa and MasterCard you are protected from unauthorized charges by their zero liability policies. You have some responsibility to ensure this protection, such as having an account in good standing and/or reporting any such charges quickly to your issuer. However, these types of protections can be very helpful to you in the event your identity or credit is stolen.

 

Important note from Merrick Bank regarding credit card breaches:

 

We are monitoring your account activity for any unusual activity and will inform you if we detect any such activity. In addition, you need to monitor your account and let us know if you see any transactions you don’t recognize. There is no need to call us unless you notice suspicious activity. Your Merrick Bank credit card protects you with no liability for any unauthorized transactions. Please continue to use your existing Merrick Bank card with confidence.

 

1http://edition.cnn.com/2014/02/02/business/hotels-credit-card-hacking/

2http://www.identitytheftassistance.org/pageview.php?cateid=47

3Federal Trade Commission – Identity Theft Survey Report

4http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2013/01/don-t-get-taken-guarding-your-id/index.htm

 

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