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By Madison Howard, Manager, Member Communications, EPCOR

Of those who have experienced identity theft, which happens when someone utilizes your personal information to commit fraud, many share that it is an overwhelming and mentally draining experience. Often victims report feelings of helplessness, anger, betrayal, embarrassment and violation. Adding insult to injury, identity theft can also lead to consequences that have a lasting impact or take significant time and effort to be resolved.

In today’s world, where technology is a huge part of our everyday lives and so much of our information is readily available, it’s important to keep data privacy at the front of our minds.

Here are a few tips to keep your personal information safe:

  1. Freeze your credit. It’s free to freeze and unfreeze your credit, restricting access to your records so new lines of credit cannot be opened. Freezing your credit provides protection against fraudsters looking to utilize your information to open a new account. Be sure to check your credit report regularly for any suspicious activity.
  2. Protect your social security number. This is one of the most important pieces of your personal information and should be fiercely protected. If an organization requests this information, ask why it’s needed and how it will be protected. Also, do not carry your physical card in your wallet. Keep it in a safe, secure location. 
  3. Use strong passwords. Don’t reuse the same password for every account – once that password is in the wrong hands, all your accounts are in jeopardy. Consider utilizing a password manager to store complex and unique passwords. Also, be wary of social media “games” or “quizzes” that ask you to share information commonly provided as security questions, such as your mother’s maiden name, first pet’s name, street you grew up on, etc. as fraudsters will use this information against you.
  4. Only use secure WiFi networks. Don’t access your financial accounts, or any other sensitive accounts/information, through public WiFi networks available at places like coffee shops or airports. Your information may be at risk if you use an unsecured network. If you must use public WiFi, always try to use HTTPS://www.website.com instead of HTTP://www.website. com (the S stands for “secure” and indicates that the data is encrypted for more protection).
  5. Watch your mailbox. Bills and other sensitive documents containing identity-related information may increase your chances of identity theft if thieves get their hands on them. If you’re going out of town, request a mail hold with the U.S. Postal Service so these important documents aren’t sitting in your mailbox. You may also consider installing a U.S. Postal Service-approved lockable mailbox and signing up for Informed Delivery emails.
  6. Limit your use of Bluetooth. Turn your Bluetooth off when not in use. Fraudsters can easily pair their device with your Bluetooth and steal your information.
  7. Secure your cell phone. Smartphones are easy to leave behind or have stolen. Some things you can do to protect yourself:
    • Set a password in case it’s lost or stolen.
    • If you’re traveling, consider deleting any sensitive apps (such as your banking app or social media networks) and reinstalling them when you’re home.
    • If you don’t want to delete important apps when you travel, intentionally log out when not in use. Some apps keep you logged in (such as LinkedIn or Facebook) and contain sensitive information.
  8. Monitor your accounts. Check your statements regularly and keep track of any new transactions via your online banking app. You can also set up alerts, via an app or text message, which can help you track your account activity. Get notified when anyone uses your debit or credit card, so you can contact your financial institution immediately if something doesn’t look right.
  9. Keep your devices up to date. Sometimes organizations will send out updates to rectify issues within the device that is leaving your information vulnerable. Fraudsters will look for out-of-date devices and prey on this vulnerability. Check regularly for updates and enable automatic updates to your device if you’re able.
  10. Protect your children. A frightening development in identity theft crimes is the use of a child’s name and identity to open bank accounts and credit cards, apply for government benefits and more. In most cases, criminals use a child’s social security number to get started. Protect your children’s sensitive documents as you would your own.

While identity theft is something we can’t entirely control, taking precautions and staying on top of your data privacy will help deter fraudsters from utilizing your information. Financial institutions have many resources available to them to help protect their customers or members as well as their employees, including education and other support from their payments association and organizations including the Federal Trade Commission and CFPB.

Sources: Freedom-ID.com, Consumer.Georgia.gov, NerdWallet.com

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