Happy International Fraud Awareness Week! We are celebrating by discussing how you can protect yourself for this upcoming tax season (and year-round). Here are ways you may be making yourself more vulnerable to fraud or identity theft and how to change those lax security habits.
Protect your paper
Nearly 30 percent of consumers store paper documents containing sensitive and personal information in a box, desk drawer or unlocked cabinet at work or home, according to a survey conducted by Shred-It, an information security company. Documents like your W2s, 1099s and bank statements should be stored in a safe place for a minimum of three years according to Robert Siciliano, Security Analyst with Hotspot Shield. Those places listed don’t qualify as a safe place. Instead, keep your documents in a locking fire retardant file cabinet and or fire retardant safe. We’re also guilty of not keeping them for the right amount of time. The survey found that 26 percent of consumers keep them for one to three years, while 13 percent keep them for less than one year.
Once it’s time to get rid of these documents, you’ll want to shred them — a practice that nearly 3 in 10 consumers don’t do says Ann Nickolas, vice-president of Shred-It. Why is this so important? Dumpster diving, the practice of going through trash to find usable data, is still more common than you’d might think. “Fraudsters prey on consumers who don’t protect their information, so it’s important to take proactive measures,” says Nickolas.
Avoid lax logins
Another simple way to protect yourself against fraud or theft is to mix up your passwords. Fifty-one percent of consumers admit to reusing a password or PIN for their email, computer login, phone passcode and bank accounts. “Varying your passwords across all accounts, from social media to email to bank accounts, ensures that in the event one account is breached, the likelihood of fraudsters being able to seize more of your information from other accounts will be limited,” says Nickolas. If you have difficulty remembering all of your different passwords, use an app like LastPass, Dashlane or 1Password to keep all of your passwords and PINs in one safe place.
Don’t think you are immune
A less obvious but equally important habit we need to shake off is sticking our heads in the sand. One in five consumers (20 percent) admit that if they became a victim of fraud, they would not know how to report and remediate it, and 27 percent admit that they do not know how to find out if they’ve become a victim of fraud or identity theft. The best practice is to constantly monitor your accounts. “If you do suspect that you’ve become a victim, there are a few signs that would indicate so such as unauthorized charges on your credit card or withdrawals from a checking account, being denied credit and receiving phone calls from debt collectors about an expense you’re unfamiliar with,” says Nickolas. If you suspect you’ve been victimized pull your credit report from at least one of the big three credit bureaus to assess the damage. You may also have access to your full credit report from your financial institution as a customer benefit. Then freeze your credit immediately with all three bureaus. Actually, that’s a good move to make whether you’ve been taken advantage of — or not.
With Hattie Burgher