How to protect your money and your identity during the coming year
We’ve heard the horror stories: people who’ve had their bank accounts emptied, their credit wrecked and their homes stolen out from under them, all because somebody got ahold of their identifying details.
In 2014, the Federal Trade Commission reported that an estimated 2.6 million Americans said they’d fallen victim to identity theft, making it the No. 1 consumer complaint for the 15th year in a row.
How can you keep identity theft from happening to you? For now there’s no surefire way to protect yourself, but you can take precautions to lower your risk.
Keep an eye on your accounts
The more you look through your credit card and bank statements, the quicker you can catch any fraudulent transactions. Pick one morning a week to scan everything and double-check your charges.
Also, review your credit reports once a year to check for unfamiliar accounts, which could be signs of fraud. The three major credit reporting companies – Experian, TransUnion and Equifax – are required to provide you with a free copy of your credit reports yearly, if you ask. It’s best to stagger those credit report requests throughout the year – one every few months – to allow periodic check-ins.
If you want to get really detailed, you can also go over copies of your Social Security report, a copy of your medical benefits from your insurance provider, your driving record from your state motor vehicle department and even your rent history report.
Learn how to keep a secret
Your passwords should be private. That means no sending emails with them, no writing them on a piece of paper stuck in your wallet and no lending your ATM card to anyone, ever.
You should use a different password for every site and change your passwords at least once every three months. And don’t forget to include your email password on this list – after all, if fraudsters have access to that, they can send in “forgotten password” requests to your accounts and clean you out in no time.
Know that chip-enabled cards are your friends
Chip-enabled credit and debit cards have been used in Europe for years, but even though they’re far more secure than cards with only a magnetic strip, they’re just now catching on in the U.S. You may notice that as your cards expire, you’re getting new cards that include a small metallic rectangle – the chip.
The chip is far more secure than the magnetic strip, but not all stores are equipped with chip readers yet. So if you come to a terminal that gives you the option of using either, always choose the chip option.
Beware of shared Wi-Fi
You can never be 100% certain the site you’re using is secure, but you can cut the risk by never shopping or banking on unsecured public Wi-Fi networks, such as those at coffee shops and hotels. You should also shop only from secure websites – those with URLs that start with “https” instead of “http.”
Though identity theft is a common crime these days, there’s no reason to panic. Most identity theft is fairly benign: Someone gets ahold of your debit card or credit card number and makes fraudulent charges, or someone passes a doctored check in your name. In cases like these, your liability is limited, but it’s important to contact your financial institution immediately if you discover fraud.
If you have questions, look to your financial institution for guidance. Many, like EECU, have even more information on how to keep your money safe and secure.
|Judy McGuire writes on personal finance for NerdWallet. This article was provided compliments of NerdWallet.com, a consumer finance news and comparison website committed to helping you save money.
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