It seems a week can’t go by without news of widespread data breaches and hackers trying to steal sensitive records and financial information. One of the most recent cyberattacks happened May 12 when more than 300,000 computers worldwide were threatened by a cyber extortion campaign. The WannaCry attack encrypts a user’s computer files and demands a ransom be paid electronically to recover them. Although reports of the attack have slowed, security breaches hit a record high of 1,093 in 2016, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center, and older Americans are the group most often targeted.
Identity theft and data breaches are scary. Hackers use and leak sensitive records that include social security numbers, credit and debit card information, emails, passwords and usernames, and protected health information. It’s important that you protect yourself.
Here are four tips to prevent identity theft and steer clear of scammers.
Check Your Mail, Then Shred It
You might think the only thing sitting in your mailbox is junk mail, but to an identity thief, it’s full of valuable information. From preapproved credit card offers to important financial correspondence, your mail is an easy target. So collect your mail in a timely manner, request the USPS to hold the mail when you’re traveling, and contact opt-out registries and services such as OptOutPrescreen.com and DMAchoice.org to prevent junk mail from piling up.
Before you toss anything in the trash, shred it. Identity thieves have been known to go dumpster diving to find documents with your bank account numbers, maiden name, birthdate and address.
Protect Your Computer
Whether you’re buying your granddaughter a birthday present, checking your bank statement, or scrolling through social media, make sure your computer is secure. That means updating your firewall and downloading antivirus software and spyware, using a password of at least eight characters and with a mix of numbers and letters, creating different passwords for each online account, and only shopping on secure websites.
Beware of Telemarketing and Phishing Scams
If the phone rings and the person on the other end asks for money, it might be a telemarketing scam. Never purchase anything from an unfamiliar company, and if you do know the company, get the salesperson’s name, contact information and business license number making any decisions. If the person says they’re a charity organization, always ask for and wait until you receive written material about the offer or request.
Also watch out for phishing scams, which are emails that claim to be a person, business or organization — one that you might even deal with regularly — that request sensitive personal information or passwords. They might include requests that don’t make sense, deceptive links or poor grammar.
Monitor Your Accounts
Your identity could be stolen, but you wouldn’t know it unless you’re saving your receipts, tracking your expenses, and double-checking your bank statements. Monitor your online accounts, and review your credit report on a regular basis. Keep track of the number of credit cards you have open, and close accounts you haven’t used in more than a year.
If you think you might be the victim of identity theft or a security breach, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to tell someone. Nearly 50 percent of Americans have been victim to credit card fraud in the past five years. Report the theft to the appropriate agencies as soon as possible.