Nine ways to protect your personal data

Identity theft is a fast growing crime in the United States. For fraud to occur, the three factors needed are opportunity, incentives and rationalization.

January 22, 2018 - Author: Brenda Long, Michigan State University Extension

Identity theft is possibly the fastest-growing crime in the United States. In 2016, 15.4 million Americans were hit with some kind of identity theft and it cost $16 billion, according to a Javelin Strategy & Research report. Data breaches happened in 2013 with Target, 2014 with Home Depot, and 2016 with Yahoo. Then in 2017, we had the Equifax data breach affecting 143 million American consumers. Chances are that your personal information has been shared without your consent! Thieves may wait for years to use it. So what are some ways to protect your personal data?

For fraud to occur, the three factors needed are opportunity, incentives and rationalization.

  • Opportunity: how it happens; from stealing your mail, stealing your wallet or purse, stealing your PIN number at ATMs, digging through trash, fraudulently ordering your credit report, or your personal information is compromised.
  • Incentives: these include obtaining credit or credit cards from banks or retailers, stealing money from victim’s existing accounts, committing insurance fraud, plus applying for loans, utility accounts, renting an apartment or a job to reveal personal information.
  • Rationalization: often there is a relationship with the fraudster. Agents and/or brokers may have considerable personal data.

Nine ways to keep your information and devices secure offline and online, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), are:

  • Read your credit reports. Order your free credit report every 12 months from each of the three credit bureaus at annualcreditreport.com: or call 1-877-322-8228. You can order all three reports at once or order one report every four months. Dispute an error.
  • Review your monthly bank, credit card, account statements and medical insurance explanation of benefits for accuracy. If you spot mistakes, contact the business.
  • Shred all documents that contain personal, financial and medical information before you discard them.
  • Delete email, text and phone messages that ask for personal information. Legitimate companies have other ways to ask for this information.
  • Create strong passwords that mix letters, numbers and special characters. Use unique passwords for each account.
  • If shopping or banking online, look for an encrypted website that has “https” at the beginning of the site address.
  • If you use a public Wi-Fi, do not send information to an unencrypted website.
  • Use anti-virus, anti-spyware software, and a firewall on your computer.
  • Update your computer’s operating system, web browser, and security system through automatic settings.

January 28 is Data Privacy Day. It is a good time to be protective about your personal data to prevent identity theft. Think about your current behaviors and habits, plus what you can do to proactively try to avoid becoming a victim. Also see Jinnifer Orquist’s article from September 26, 2017 on Equifax breach: fraud alert or credit freeze? Equifax is offering free credit monitoring after its breach. You need to sign up by January 31, 2018. Find more information about credit and debt visit MIMoneyHealth.org.

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