In light of multiple data breaches (Capital One, Anthem, Home Depot, Target, etc.), it's prudent to just assume that your data, even if just parts of it, are out there. While this may feel a bit unsettling, you can take actions to help mitigate the unwanted use of your information and reduce the risk of it being compromised in the first place.
Consider Freezing Your Credit
A credit freeze, also known as a security freeze, restricts access to your credit report. If a thief attempts to open a new account using your credit, the lender will typically pull your report which they won't be able to do because of the freeze in place. The downside is that when you want to apply for credit, you'll need to remember to unfreeze, or "thaw" your account during the application process. This adds a layer of inconvenience but if you're not shopping for credit any time soon then the benefits may outweigh the inconvenience.
You'll need to reach out to each of the nationwide credit bureaus:
As a side note, if you have children, consider freezing their credit as well.
Monitor Your Credit You can obtain free credit reports for each of the three major credit bureaus at https://www.annualcreditreport.com. Due to the Equifax breach, you may also be entitled to free credit monitoring. Check out this link for more information and to see if you qualify: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2019/07/equifax-data-breach-pick-free-credit-monitoring. Finally, many banks, credit unions, and credit cards are offering free versions of credit monitoring and the ability to see your score so check with them. By the way, monitoring your credit does not negatively affect your credit score.
Keep an Eye on Your Cash Flow
Simply regularly monitoring your cash flow is a great internal control for detecting fraudulent use of your accounts. There are plenty of great tools available that will aggregate and categorize your data automatically either online or into a spreadsheet. Reviewing your expenses can help you spot abnormalities that may be fraudulent. Years ago, this practice allowed me to notice some charges that came through that I didn't recognize at a national retail, albeit this was in a state I've never been. I was able to notify my credit card issuer and get it resolved.
It should be noted that while there are federal laws in place to help protect consumers in the case of unauthorized use, you as the consumer do have some responsibilities in reporting the fraud in a timely manner. The sooner that you catch something and can report it, the better. You can check out this link to the FTC here for more information: https://consumer.ftc.gov/articles/lost-or-stolen-credit-atm-debit-cards
Change Your Passwords and Utilize a Password Manager KidsName123 is not a secure password. Especially since many people partially recycle passwords by changing a number or two. I get it: it's hard to be creative and come up with a new password especially if it needs to be 20 characters long. However, consider utilizing a password manager such as LastPass, Apple's iCloud keychain, or Google's Password Manager. Aside from securely storing your passwords, a manager can also generate secure passwords for you with as many characters and types as a site requires. Therefore, even if a thief obtains a password or two, it won't be as useful across multiple sites since each site's password is completely different.
Consider Using a VPN (Virtual Private Network)
In today's "work from anywhere" format, people are working from, well, anywhere: home, coffee shops, train stations, airports, hotels, libraries, wherever, often on public WiFi networks. Even if you're not working, shopping or performing online banking while on public WiFi exposes you to the risk of having your information stolen during transmission. Consider using a VPN which allows you to create a secure connection to another network over the internet and can help hide your browsing activity details. Many businesses and organizations use VPNs for remote workers or satellite offices to securely transmit data but personal VPN services can also be purchased for a modest amount. Many personal VPNs may be used on your mobile phone as well, offering protection on devices that we likely use the most.
Business Owners: Craft a Cybersecurity Plan If you own a business, regardless of size or industry, you house quite a bit of sensitive information. Consider assessing your current cybersecurity plan, implement privacy and security policies, and train any staff accordingly.
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