National Consumer Protection Week: Tips for Avoiding Identity Theft

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Do you know your credit score? Why does it even matter? Is your personal information safe? What should you look for when making big purchases like a car or a house? How can you identify online frauds and scams? There’s no better time than during National Consumer Protection Week, March 5-11, to educate yourself about these topics and more.

Recent findings from Javelin Strategy & Research show 15.4 million people fell victim to identity fraud in 2016, up 16 percent from the previous year. Their research also found that incidences of card-not-present fraud rose by 40 percent. These numbers are somewhat alarming, but there are ways we can protect ourselves and minimize potential identity fraud.

Shred Documents

To minimize your risk for identity theft, make sure you properly discard of any documents that contain sensitive information. Everything from financial statements to prescription labels contain potentially damaging information in the wrong hands. Shred any documents you no longer need and use a permanent marker to scratch out information on prescription bottle labels. If you don’t have access to a shredder, many local colleges or financial institutions have community shredding days – contact your bank or financial institution for a local shred day event. If you think someone has used your personal information – to file false tax returns, open accounts or make purchases – visit IdentityTheft.gov to report it immediately and learn ways to recover from the theft and restore your credit.

Check Your Credit Report

Another way to keep your personal information safe is by checking your credit report – it’s free once per year! By checking your credit report each year, you’ll be aware of any fraudulent activity, know how many accounts you have open, your credit balances on each, and your overall credit score.

Beware of Online Scams and Phishing

Remember that the internet can be a great source for information but can also be a great way for your personal information to be compromised. When banking or shopping online, use only secure websites and use two-factor authentication when available. Create strong passwords that include a combination of letters, numbers and symbols, and use different passwords for separate accounts. If you receive an email or message asking for personal information, do not respond. Also, avoid opening emails or clicking on links from unknown or questionable sources. You can also sign up to receive account alerts on everything from your mortgage account to your phone bill. Exercising this option will alert you to any suspect activity. Check your individual accounts to see if this option is available.

Protect Digital Devices

With an ever-increasing number of people using the internet to shop, bank, sign up for newsletters or other services, apply for jobs and more, it’s important to remember the devices from which we access this information. Make sure your computers and mobile devices are protected from hackers, scammers and identity thieves by ensuring your anti-virus software is up to date. Using a laptop? Here are some ways to keep it secure. Do you have old devices no longer in use? Learn how to properly dispose of old computers and mobile devices including cell phones and tablets.

Protecting your credit and identity extends beyond the internet. Opening a bank account, applying for a loan, getting a line of credit at a department store or purchasing a vehicle increase the potential for fraud. Know your rights as a consumer before you buy. Celebrate National Consumer Protection Week by arming yourself with knowledge!

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