Is your personal data safe? Many large organizations have experienced cybersecurity breaches that expose their customers’ data to identity thieves. Criminals also use a variety of other schemes to get access to your confidential data—and your accounts. According to AICPA research, most Americans believe ID theft is likely to cause them financial loss in the next year. Here are some tips from the AICPA's National CPA Financial Literacy Commission to help Americans prevent and mitigate the effects of identity theft.
Don't wait for suspicious activity to occur. Monitor your credit report & set protections now.
You can request a free credit report from all three major credit reporting agencies once a year, including TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. Additionally, some monitoring services allow you unlimited access to your credit information year-round. These services are there to help you spot inaccuracies, potential fraud and more on your credit report. This should also be done for children. Theft of a child’s ID may go undetected for many years such that by the time they are adults, the damage has already been done.
Don’t provide your Social Security number unless it’s necessary.
A space for it on a form doesn’t necessarily mean that it is required. For example, your doctor’s office may use a unique number issued by your insurance company to enter your claim but their form may have a space for SSN anyway. Don’t be afraid to ask if they really need it.
Make sure your WIFI network at home is secured with a password.
A skilled data thief can access information on an unsecured network. Additionally, when away from home, avoid providing credit card or other personal information on unsecured Wi-Fi networks like those in airports or coffee shops.
“Do your online shopping at home where you know both the device and the network are secure. On-the-go online shopping, though convenient, puts your personal information at risk. You have no control over who might also be using that unsecured public network." -Kim Hardy, CPA/CFF, member of the AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission.
Be cautious of unsecured websites.
“Check to make sure the shopping websites you visit are secure. The URL, also known as a web address, will indicate if a website is secure. Look for a website address that begins with ‘https://’ in lieu of ‘http://’ which is missing the ‘s.’ If you shop on an unsecured website, scammers can steal your personal and financial information from any forms you fill out.” -Kim Hardy, CPA/CFF, member of the AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission.
Don’t provide personal information in response to any unsolicited communication.
Even if the caller, text or email claims to be from a bank or credit card company needing to “verify” your account to “prevent fraud.” If in doubt, call the number on your bank statement or the back of your credit card.
Be cautious of any unsolicited communications concerning COVID-19 that ask for your personal information. The Federal Trade Commission keeps an updated list of commons scams on their website.
What to do if it happens?
Act quickly to limit the damage. Call your credit card company and report it to them. They will close your card and issue a new one. File a police report to ensure that you are covered for any damages that you may incur. If your Federal return is affected, call the IRS 800-908-4490 and file Form 14039 Identity Theft Affidavit.
For more information about what to do in the event of identity theft, check out this article: Damage Control for Identity Theft Victims.