We’ve barely made it through the holidays, but already the end of the year montages and New Year’s resolutions are beginning to surface. Stores have cleared out the tinsel and holly and are packing the shelves with exercise equipment in preparation for all of our best intentions. While that well-meaning promise to go to the gym every single day might be a little out of reach, there are some very realistic resolutions you can make that will be even more beneficial.
This past year, the Identity Theft Resource Center tracked yet another record-setting number of data breaches and compromised consumer records. In 2016, we faced the announcement of not one but two large-scale data breaches that affected more email accounts than any other hacking event in history. There was a severe increase in the numbers of ransomware attacks against medical facilities, as well as an unprecedented surge in “boss phishing” attacks against companies of every size and industry.
So what’s your New Year’s resolution heading into 2017? To make your personal data as safe as you can and to protect your privacy through simple, everyday habits.
Resolution One: Protect Your Tech – If you don’t have a passcode on your smartphone, stop what you’re doing right now and activate it. Yes, it’s a tiny hassle to enter the code or swipe the pattern every single time you need your phone, but if left unprotected, you’re handing so much of your identity to a thief if your phone is lost or stolen. The same is true for your tablet or any mobile device that accesses your accounts.
Resolution Two: Guard Your Data – Make this the year that you keep better tabs on your personal identifiable information. Don’t just turn over your Social Security number without asking why they need it and verifying their plans to protect it. A lot of organizations still ask for it out of sheer habit, or worse, because they never bothered to update their forms. The SSN was designed as a tax identification number, and by law is not to be used for everyday identification purposes.
Resolution Three: Know Your Social Media…and What You Share – If you’re connected online through any of the hundreds of social media platforms, you’ve got to know how they work and how to keep your information private. At the same time, just because you set your preferences to the strictest possible security settings doesn’t mean someone else can’t cut and paste your pictures, screenshot your posts, and more. Make sure that everything you share online is purposeful and cannot be used against you.
Resolution Four: Check Your Credit – This is the time to setup calendar alerts on your phone or tablet to remind you to request copies of your credit score. You’re entitled to one free copy each year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies; you can request these directly from the source or through a free credit report service; just be aware that some of the “free” services advertised are actually free trials, and will begin billing you if you don’t cancel in time. Stagger your credit report requests throughout the year to get an ongoing look at your report, and take action against any suspicious activity.
Resolution Five: Watch Out for “Old School” Thieves – Just because hackers have taken to complicated technology to steal your data doesn’t mean the old ways aren’t still a threat. Dumpster diving for your bank statements or credit card offers, check washing of checks in your outgoing mail, and so many other methods are still in use. Invest in a home model cross-cut shredder to destroy all sensitive papers before discarding, and drop your outgoing mail in the blue box from the US Postal System.
Resolution Six: Know the Latest Scams and Spread the News – Checking in with the ITRC from time to time will keep you updated on the latest scams, fraud attempts, and identity theft information. Downloading the IDTheftHelp app for iOS or Android will keep the latest information at your fingertips, as will following the ITRC on Facebook and Twitter. Once you know about the latest threats, help spread the word by sharing the news with your friends and family.
The truth is, some identity theft crimes are completely unpreventable, at least where the victim is concerned. However, there are a lot of steps you can take that will make you less of a target and more likely to spot a problem immediately.
Questions about identity theft? Contact the ITRC toll-free at (888) 400-5530 or on-the-go with the new IDTheftHelp app for iOS and Android.