In the digital world, accessing consumer information becomes easier for criminals every day. Chances are you’ve registered and transacted with dozens, if not hundreds of online websites, retailers, message boards, and networking sites that all ask for different pieces of information from you. You’ve entered credit card information, date of birth, drivers license, social security number, and your mothers’ maiden name more times than you can count. Unfortunately this is all information that can be intercepted, stolen from your computer, or stolen from your trash and used to destroy you financially! In 2009, there were over 11 million identity fraud victims in the United States alone, with the average cost to repair credit and reverse the damage at $631 per person. The FTC estimates it takes the average person over 6 months to repair their name and credit, and over 200 hours of work.
Here are some of the most common ways thieves get ahold of your information:
- Digging through your trash for credit card information and bank statements.
- Phony email scams asking you to contact them and give passwords or other personal info.
- Viruses and other malware that access your computer information or track the keys you press
- Hacking a vendor you do business with online
What can you do to protect yourself?
- Get a shredder at home and use it! Shred any mail with your name on it, especially credit card and bank statements.
- Make sure you deal with reputable vendors with good security policies.
- Use credit cards often. Credit card companies typically carry very good security measures to identify potential security breaches and correct them or cut off your account until everything is resolved.
- Be cautious ordering goods from companies or websites located out of the United States. Privacy laws and security measures are different in every country.
- Keep an up to date antivirus program on your computer. This will help protect against computer viruses that may infect your computer and transmit your personal data to someone else.
- If an email asks you to download a .zip or .exe file, don’t download it unless you are 100% sure who sent it! Unless you know the sender and know what they’re sending you, this could install a virus on your computer that steals your personal data.
- Be very cautious of emails that ask you to change your password or give them other personal information, even if they look like they’re coming from a legit source.
- Don’t keep passwords saved on your computer.
- Use different user names and passwords for each site you visit, and write them down in a secure location. Your bank and credit card companies will have state of the art security measures to protect your account and information, but places like message boards are notorious for poor security. If you use the same password for your credit card company and someone steals your password from an online message board or other community then you’re in huge trouble!
There is of course no way to completely protect yourself from identity theft; the best you can do is take every step to prevent it. Check with your credit card companies, bank, and insurance company to find out what protection you have for identity fraud. Our Homeowners Insurance policies through Farmers Insurance come standard with $30,000 of identity fraud protection at no additional cost, and it is an optional coverage on renters and condo insurance policies. Let us go over your options and recommendations so we can help you make an informed decision to protect you and your family.
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Owner of Paul Nelson Insurance, and resident of Santa Cruz and Monterey counties for 30 years.