In light of recent news headlines related to the Anthem cyber-attack, it is important to revisit the critical importance of controlling those things in our financial lives that remain within our control. This includes partnering with companies who have a solid plan for your information security, and understanding the “worst-case scenario” if your personal data is accessed during a cyber attack.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft is at the top of the list of consumer complaints. Despite the best safeguards, it has become clear that we can’t always control the way our personal information is accessed or used. Even the IRS isn’t immune to scammers. The Government Accountability Office reported that $5 billion in erroneous refunds were paid in 2014 as a result of fraudulent filings.
Of the various methods criminals utilize to take advantage of their victims, the most-common wrongdoing is the unauthorized use of existing credit cards. Fortunately, each person has the ability to monitor his or her own credit report. Regularly reviewing personal credit information is a necessity in this day and age where identity theft runs rampant. If you’re not already watching over your personal report, now is the time to begin.
As a way to be vigilant and take an active part in protecting against credit fraud, SYM suggests that, at minimum, you check your credit activity on an annual basis. Each of the three main credit reporting agencies allows individuals to request a free credit report once every 12 months. You can access Equifax, Experian and TransUnion reports from one website, www.annualcreditreport.com, or call 1-877-322-8228. To make the request, you will need to provide your name, address, Social Security number and date of birth. For additional safety, please be sure to confirm use of the proper link as there are many “imposter” websites.
In addition to completing an annual credit check-up, you can take a more proactive approach by choosing to “freeze” your credit or by purchasing identity theft protection from a specialty company such as LifeLock or Identity Guard.
When you implement a “freeze,” the three credit reporting companies are prohibited from releasing your credit report without your consent. Should the time come when you need to “unfreeze” your credit (e.g., in order to apply for a mortgage or purchase a vehicle), you would simply contact the agency and provide a secure personal identification number.
If you don’t have the time or ability to monitor your credit, paying for an identity security service may be a prudent measure. Such companies screen various databases and search for illicit use of personal data, fraudulent loan and credit applications and the sale of information related to an individual. Should any of these actions be detected, you would be immediately notified and the company will take steps to ensure that no harm is done. Some companies that offer these services also provide payment for damages that result from illegal use of your data.
As always, your SYM advisor is available to discuss any follow up questions you may have.