Tips on Guarding Your Personal Data

Identity theft is on the rise, and the typical thief isn’t wearing a burglar’s mask that makes him or her easy to spot. But there are a few ways to guard against potential fraudsters, who could cause you a serious financial headache and negatively affect your credit. Here’s a primer to help you keep your identity and financial information secure and stop fraud before it happens.

Be cautious

It’s not just Social Security numbers that need protection. Identity theft operations can profit from a broad range of information. Credit and debit cards and checks can all leave your personal information vulnerable if you aren’t careful.

One of the most frequent places for theft to occur is through online shopping. Criminals can collect valuable personal information by hacking into merchants’ websites, so it’s important to shop only on sites that are reliable and reputable. When you have to use public Wi-Fi, make sure any shopping or banking you do is through a website that has the extra “s” at the beginning of its URL, making it "https://."  That signifies it’s a secure interface. If your card information is stored through a website or app, make sure phones and computers have a screen lock that requires a password. That way if thieves come along, they won’t be able to go on a shopping spree.

Using a card even for in-person transactions can also be risky. Sometimes hackers manage to attach skimmers to card readers at restaurants, filling stations and even ATMs. These hard-to-spot devices can read and store your account information. Keep an eye out at ATMs or gas pumps for additional gizmos or attachments. If you suspect something is amiss, pay cash or take your business elsewhere.

Personal checks can also leave you vulnerable because they carry account information. It’s a good idea to use black, gel-based ink and to write checks out to only trusted individuals or companies. Thieves may try to wash a check and then write in their own amount.

Quick tips

Here are a few additional precautions to start bolstering your security:

  • Keep an eye out for suspicious emails. Avoid clicking on links, attachments or responding to email from people you don’t know or unfamiliar organizations.
  • Set up text or email alerts offered by financial institutions like Redwood Credit Union so you get real-time updates whenever a transaction is made in your account. Also, monitor your accounts through online banking and monthly statements, and keep an eye out for any suspicious activity. Notify your financial institution immediately if you notice transactions you didn’t authorize.
  • Pay with a credit card. These cards typically provide better protection against fraudulent charges than debit cards, both by law and since the funds don’t come directly out of your bank account.
  • Don’t share personal information on the phone or online, either through social media or email.
  • Change passwords regularly and don’t save login information on shopping websites.

If you’ve been a victim of fraud, make sure to report it to the Federal Trade Commission. If the issue is an Internet offense such as a shopping scheme, consider filing a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center. It’s also important to alert financial services providers any time you suspect an account has been compromised.

 

Educational article by Cait Klein, courtesy of NerdWallet