Has the recent Equifax breach kept you up at night, wondering if your information was compromised? Are you feeling insecure about cyber security? If you haven’t yet experienced identity theft, here is what you need to know about cyber security and protecting your identity before you need it:
- You will need to evaluate your current practices and establish new habits to protect your identity. There are practices you can undertake to reduce your risk.
- You should also evaluate your financial institution. Does it offer you protection from cyber crimes? It should!
Yes, thieves still rob banks the old-fashioned way. However, any financial institution that doesn’t have protections in place to thwart hackers and scammers isn’t where you want to put your hard-earned money. Fortunately for you, United Financial Credit Union offers identity theft protection to its members.
Perhaps you’ve already taken some steps to protect your identity:
- You shred documents that have personal information so it won’t end up in the wrong hands. But is your shredder a cross-cut shredder? Perhaps you wouldn’t try to piece together those long strips, but hackers and thieves would! Upgrade your shredder if you haven’t already done so.
- You not only change your passwords on a regular basis, but you use sophisticated passwords. You never use “password” as a password or use birthdays, maiden names, etc. Instead you use combinations of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols.
- You never submit sensitive information over public wi-fi. You make sure you are on a secure network and an encrypted website. You always double-check your cyber security by looking for the “https” in the URL to make sure your private information is safe to send.
- You screen calls via caller ID. If you don’t recognize the number, you simply don’t pick up.
- Your wallet offers RFID-blocking protection for your credit cards.
These are all good first steps to take to increase your cyber security, but despite taking these protections from cyber crimes, you could still be vulnerable.
Taking the Next Steps
Cyber security is your responsibility. To protect your identity from theft, you need to take precautions on a number of fronts. You have already eliminated the paper trail to your personal information. Now you need to protect yourself from phishing scams and spoof calls—the two most common methods used to gain access to your personal information.
Do not underestimate the ingenuity, persistence, or sophistication of cyber criminals. Don’t feel smug about not falling for the fake email from a family member traveling overseas who needs you to send money for them to get home. For every scam you have heard about, there are new ones to take their place.
Phishing Is No Fun!
Phishing refers to the fraudulent email messages you receive that purport to be a person, business, or organization you know and trust. Sometimes the email threatens you in some way—for example, the IRS will seize your property if you don’t send a payment. The email demands you send personal information to verify who you are. The federal government would never contact you this way by email.
Other times the phishing scheme plays on human greed. Large companies with online sales, such as Amazon or Walmart, are supposedly informing you of a gift card you’ve won. If the message were legitimate, it wouldn’t ask for your personal information in order to claim the prize. The old adage still applies: If it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t!
Fear and greed are two motivations cyber criminals use to manipulate you into handing over sensitive information they can use to steal your identity. Your cyber security depends in part upon your ability to see these manipulations for what they are.
If you are unsure about an email message, don’t click any links. If you think a company is trying to communicate with you, go directly to their website by typing the URL in yourself or call the company.
Spoof Calls Are No Joke!
When you think of cyber security, you generally think about email and websites, but phone scams provide another form of cyber threat. Especially with VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), it’s easy for criminals to disguise who they are. Think of the phony phone number that pops up on your caller ID as a ski mask. You don’t necessarily know who is on the other end of the line.
Be wary of calls that are from unfamiliar area codes or do not identify the caller by personal or business name. If in doubt, let your phone go to voice mail. A legitimate caller will leave a message. If the cyber criminals spoof a phone number that appears legitimate and you answer, be wary of callers who ask for personal information.
Unless you originate the call to your medical insurance provider or other business or government agency, you should never disclose your Social Security number or other identifying information.
EQUIFAX—What do I do?
Even when you do everything you can to protect your identity, hackers can gain access to it when they breach companies. Sony, Target, Yahoo!, and now Equifax, have all experienced breaches. According to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission), these are steps you can take in response to the Equifax breach:
- Visit the Equifax website, equifaxsecurity2017.com, using a secure computer.
- Click on “Potential Impact” to find out if your information was breached. You will be asked to enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number. Equifax will indicate whether or not your information was breached or if it was possibly impacted.
- You will have the option to enroll in a free year of credit monitoring services. You will be able to sign up through January 31, 2018. If you choose to take them up on this offer, note that after your one-year free trial, you will be billed if you do not call to cancel your subscription. Be wary and read carefully before clicking.
There are additional steps you can take yourself to improve your cyber security. For example, it’s always good to monitor your accounts yourself.
- Pay attention to your monthly statements. Check each charge on your credit card bill. The same goes for your monthly bank statement. Be pro-active!
- Check your credit report. You are entitled to a free annual report. Make sure that the information is accurate. If it isn’t, you can find helpful information at IdentityTheft.gov.
- Consider a credit freeze (no new accounts can be taken out in your name) or a fraud alert (creditors are alerted to verify that the person seeking credit is really you).
- File your taxes early. Scammers have increasingly targeted tax refunds. They can’t steal what has already been refunded to you.
Who’s Guarding the Hen House?
If your trust in Equifax is shaken, you might feel reluctant to sign up for identity theft protection through them. Whether or not you sign up for their protection program is up to you. Further, whether your information was compromised in this breach or not, you need to protect your identity. Ultimately, your cyber security is up to you.
Maintaining your cyber security can feel daunting. Despite your best efforts, your identity can be stolen through no fault of your own. Fortunately, you can trust United Financial Credit Union to help you with cyber security. Every personal check account holder can enroll in ID Protect® for only $1.99 per month. We’ll help you monitor and restore your identity.