Identity Theft Protection: How to Reduce Your Risks
As discussed in this previously published Summit Brokerage blog entitled “Identity Theft Protection and Financial Planning”, identity theft and identity fraud are some of the most popular and fastest growing crimes of the 21st century. According to a 2017 report from Javelin Strategy & Research, $16 billion was stolen from 15.4 million U.S. consumers in 2016 as a result of identity theft and identify fraud. These staggering 2016 statistics are up 16 percent from 2015 and also represent the highest recorded amount since Javelin Strategy & Research started tracking identify theft and fraud instances in 2004. To protect yourself from this all-too-common and potentially devastating crime, you must keep an eagle eye on your finances and identity theft protection should now be a necessary element of your financial planning process.
While you can’t completely eliminate the possibility of becoming a victim of identity theft or fraud, here are some steps you can take to reduce your risk. (Disclosure: This article contains general information that is not suitable for every consumer. Moreover, this list is not intended to be a complete list of every step a consumer should take to reduce his or her risk. Accordingly, it is recommended that you work with your financial advisor or planner to develop an identity theft protection plan that meets your specific needs and financial situation.)
The following tips can help reduce your risk of identity theft and fraud:
1. Protect your Social Security Number (SSN). Unless absolutely necessary, do not carry your SSN card or any other card or document that contains your SSN on your person; instead, keep these cards and documents in a safe place such as a locked safe in your home. Also, if a business asks you for your SSN, ask if you can use an alternate number instead. If possible, do not list your SSN on a job application—mention to your potential employer that you can provide this number later in the application process such as when the job interview is conducted or when a background check is conducted. Also, do not say your SSN out loud when there are other people around.
2. Treat your trash carefully to ward off dumpster divers and scammers. Make sure to shred (a cross-cut shredder is preferred) or destroy sensitive documents such as pre-approved credit offers you may receive in the mail, convenience checks you don’t use, credit card receipts, phone and utilities bills, bank and investment account statements, and etc.
3. Take steps to reduce the amount of your personal information that is out there in the world. To reduce the number of pre-approved credit card offers you receive in the mail, remove your name from the marketing lists of the three major credit reporting bureaus. Do this by calling 888-5OPTOUT or go online to optoutprescreen.com. Also, click here to sign up for the Federal Trade Commission’s National Do Not Call Registry. Depending on your state, you may also need to register for your state’s “do not call” list, if your state has one of these lists. Additionally, when possible, try to have your name and information removed from phonebooks (digital and hard copy) and reverse directories.
4. Protect personal information on your computer. On both your home and business computer and devices such as tablets, install a firewall and updated virus and malware protection software. Make sure to password-protect and encrypt any of your computer files that contain sensitive data such as your financial information. When it comes to passwords, use strong, not easily guessed passwords that contain a combination of numbers, special characters, upper and lower case letters, and do not include dictionary words. Do not use the same password for all of your various accounts that require passwords. If you’re getting rid of your computer, phone, or tablet, make sure to remove all the data on your device using a strong wipe utility program. You can’t rely on the device’s delete function to completely wipe your device clean.
5. Reduce the number of credit and debit cards you carry in your wallet. While debit cards are riskier because of the potential for loss to your checking account and generally have less fraud protection than credit cards, we understand that debit cards are nonetheless popular and convenient. If possible, only carry on or two credit cards (chip-enabled, if possible) and your ATM card in your wallet. Vigilantly monitor your debit and credit card statements online to monitor account activity and report suspicious or fraudulent activity immediately. If possible, use your credit card rather than debit card for online shopping because with a credit card you typically will be better protected in cases of fraud. When shopping online, only use secure websites—while not foolproof, one way to tell if the website is secure is if the website’s URL begins with “https” rather than “http”. When online shipping, only do business with companies that have strong privacy and security policies and provide transaction security protection.
6. Order your credit report at least once a year to look for errors and suspicious or fraudulent activity. Federal law entitles you to a free credit report each year from the three major credit reporting agencies. Your credit report may show tell-tale signs of potential identity theft, such as inquiries not generated by you or credit accounts that you did not open.
7. Report suspicious activity and identity theft and fraud immediately. The earlier you detect the fraud, the easier and faster it will be to rectify the situation and regain your financial health. For information on how to report suspected identity theft and fraud, check out the soon-to-be-published blog on this specific topic on the Summit Brokerage Blog.
Summit Brokerage Services was voted the #1 boutique independent broker dealer in the country. To experience the Summit difference and learn more about our network of independent financial advisors, visit https://www.summitbrokerage.com or call us at (800) 354-5528.
To learn more and find a local Summit Financial Advisor you feel comfortable with, both personally and professionally, visit https://repoffice.summitbrokerage.com/locator/index.aspx
About Summit Brokerage Services, Inc.
Summit Brokerage Services is part of Cetera Financial Group. Summit Brokerage provides a broad range of securities brokerage and investment services to primarily individual investors. Summit Brokerage also sells insurance products, predominantly fixed and variable annuities and life insurance through its subsidiary, SBS Insurance Agency of Florida. Summit Brokerage also provides asset management services through its investment advisor, Summit Financial Group, Inc.
About Cetera Financial Group
Cetera Financial Group® (“Cetera”) is a leading network of independent retail broker-dealers empowering the delivery of objective financial planning advice to individuals, families and company retirement plans across the country through trusted financial advisors and financial institutions. Cetera is the second-largest independent financial advisor network in the nation by number of advisors, as well as a leading provider of retail services to the investment programs of banks and credit unions.
Through its multiple distinct firms, Cetera offers independent and institutions-based advisors the benefits of a large, established broker-dealer and registered investment adviser, while serving advisors and institutions in a way that is customized to their needs and aspirations. Independent financial advisor support resources offered through Cetera include award-winning wealth management and financial planning and advisory platforms, comprehensive broker-dealer and registered investment adviser services, practice management support and innovative technology. For more information, visit www.ceterafinancialgroup.com.
*”Cetera Financial Group” refers to the network of retail independent broker-dealers encompassing, among others, Cetera Advisors, Cetera Advisor Networks, Cetera Financial Institutions, Cetera Financial Specialists, First Allied Securities, Girard Securities, The Legend Group and Summit Brokerage Services.