According to a recent study, within the next three years worldwide cybercrime will surpass the $2 trillion mark. 1 Meanwhile, the inevitable rise of e-commerce in the U.S. has led to a surge in online criminal activity as the effortless electronic movement of funds proves increasingly enticing to hackers and identity thieves. It is not that hard to imagine a point in the future where malls and brick & mortar stores are viewed as an anachronism – in much the same manner that we look back on the days when horses were the principal mode of transportation.
Modernization inevitably brings with it unexpected challenges, and from all appearances, the World Wide Web has rapidly become the new frontier for outlaws. Rather than a gun, these bandits are armed with a laptop and a mouse, and always one or two steps ahead of the law. So exactly what can you do to minimize the likelihood of becoming a victim of identity theft? And what steps should you take if and when you believe your identity has been compromised?
Protecting your privacy
First and foremost, make sure that you limit the privacy settings on all of your social media accounts, restricting access to friends and family only. Information about you is currency that hackers can use to make informed guesses as to personal passwords. Never use email to convey personal financial information such as account numbers or your Social Security number. Email is not a secure method of communication and no reputable organization will ever ask you to provide personal information in that manner.
In addition, you have probably begun to encounter websites that now require you to verify your identity by entering a four-digit PIN that is texted to your cell phone, before allowing you to make any changes to your password or private information. This is called “two-factor authentication,” and although perhaps a minor inconvenience, serves as a valuable new mechanism for fraud protection.
Most importantly, however, be vigilant. Review your bank and credit card statements closely each month rather than just filing them away. Look carefully for small incremental charges from unfamiliar vendors, as often fraud will occur more like a thousand paper cuts than a single massive theft. Talk to both your children and elderly parents about protecting their personal information, as those are often the two primary targets of hackers due to their more open, trusting natures and in the case of the older generation, less tech-savvy ways.
Think your identity has been stolen?
If you have any reason to believe that you are the victim of online fraud or that your personal information has been compromised, the following quick actions can save you from a host of headaches and lingering financial and credit after-effects.
Immediately change all your online passwords, notify us at SunTrust (as well as any other credit card companies or financial institutions you conduct business with) and ask for heightened account security protections to be put in place. At the same time, contact one of the “big three” credit reporting agencies and notify them of your concerns:
Experian Fraud Department; 1-888-397-3742; www.experian.com
TransUnion Fraud Department; 1-800-680-7289; http://www.transunion.com
Equifax Fraud Department; 1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com
The credit agency will implement an immediate fraud alert and share that information with the other two agencies, mandating that any requests for credit in your name over the next three months be voice verified. The fraud alert also entitles you to receive a free credit report upon request. Review the report closely for unauthorized activity and notify the police if any fraud has taken place. Lastly, continue closely monitoring your credit report, bank and credit card statements after the 90-day fraud alert period to ensure no subsequent unauthorized activities take place.