May the Fourth be with you …. and your online security
Federal tax returns and depending on where you live, state tax returns, are due in t-minus 13 days. As much of a headache filing your income taxes, or owing taxes, can be, experiencing identity fraud or theft can be a much more permanent and long-lasting headache. Unfortunately many of us have either experience for ourselves or know someone close to us who has been the victim of credit card fraud, usually resulting in temporary loss and the inconvenience of canceling a credit card; however data released from the Federal Trade Commission shows that over 1.3 million individuals experienced identity theft in 2020. That’s over double the cases reported in 2019 and over triple the cases reported in 2018.
As we are reminded constantly, a lot has changed in the last year with the Covid-19 pandemic, resulting in a necessity to perform transactions online from shopping to digital banking to communicating with colleagues and loved ones. Not to mention individuals are clicking more on content related to the updates on the pandemic, looking for guidance from what they believe are trusted sources, and online filings for government relief benefits have spiked. All of this combined with the tax filing season can result even in the most discerning person to become vulnerable to identity theft and fraud.
And while the convenience of performing almost any task online can be priceless, protecting your identity online is invaluable. It is nearly impossible to navigate through today’s society without having an online presence and enjoying the fruits of modern technology, but there steps that can be taken to reduce this risk to protect you and loved ones from being one of those affected by identity fraud.
A few things you can do to protect yourself and your family:
- Be alert to phishing and scams. Particularly during tax season. The IRS will NOT call, text, email you demanding payment. No matter how persistent or scary this may be, anyone calling and saying they are from the IRS or threatening with jail time will have nothing but ill intentions. Never give your personal information to these individuals.
- Use strong passwords and add two step authentication. And don’t forget to have a place to store all of those crazy long passwords in a secure location. Using an encrypted password manager like LastPass can not only store the passwords, but help generate random, secure passwords for you so you don’t continue to use the same password over and over again.
- Freeze your, your spouse’s, and if applicable, your children’s credit. This can be done through the three credit bureaus – Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. Doing so ensures maximum protection and can prevent fraudsters from opening a new credit card or loan in your name. Whenever you need to apply for credit, you are able to temporarily lift the freeze using a password / PIN.
- Check your credit three times a year. You used to be able to receive one free credit report annually each from Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax, but apparently up until April 20, 2022 you are able to check your credit reports for free weekly. And as a reminder, checking these credit reports does not hurt your credit. You can check yours by visiting annualcreditreport.com
- Set up alerts for credit cards to track fraudulent charges and to approve large purchases.
- Shred! If you missed our shred day in April, no problem! We are always happy to have our clients drop off documents to our office where we can put them in our shred bin for you.
- Monitor financial and medical statements and check with your insurance provider to ensure claims were filed and the bills are legitimate.
- Always lock your mobile device. I know this sounds intuitive; however apparently 48% of individuals don’t regularly lock their phone!
- Do not use public WIFI to check financial accounts or to do online shopping. If you must either use a private secured network and a VPN. If you are working from home, ensure your wireless network is secured.
- Be extra cautious about emails from unknown people or from strange email addresses claiming to be a family member — especially if they seem random, requiring immediate action, illogical or threatening.
- Hover over links sent to you before clicking to make sure the hyperlink is the same as the link-to address.
- Don’t forget the children! Children’s social security numbers are just as susceptible if not even more to identity fraud as it can provide a “clean slate” for fraudsters. As mentioned earlier, doing a credit freeze and monitoring children’s credit can help in protecting their identity and credit.
If you find yourself or a loved one’s identity / credit has been compromised here are some things you can do right away:
- Let your financial advisor know!
- Call the companies where you know the fraud occurred, speak to the fraud department to report it, and have them freeze or close the accounts. Change logins, passwords, and PINs immediately for the accounts.
- Place a fraud alert and get your credit reports. You will only have to contact one of the below companies as that company must tell the other two
- Report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission
- Go to IdentityTheft.gov or call 1-877-438-4338. Include as many details as possible.
- File a report with your local police department including the FTC Identity Theft Report and proof of your identity along with any proof you have of the theft.
The FTC has a very helpful handbook detailing the actions to take to unwind any damage done if identity theft occurs: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/pdf-0009_identitytheft_a_recovery_plan.pdf
As technology continues to develop more of our lives and daily activities go virtual, taking the few steps to maintain your security will give you some peace of mind so you can enjoy the conveniences of continuing an online presence.
Happy SAFE surfing and of course I couldn’t let this day go by without wishing, “May the Fourth be with you.”