Take th­ese steps to bat­tle iden­tity theft

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - BUSINESS - John Gar­vey Colum­nist

Ya­hoo re­cently an­nounced that at least 500 mil­lion users were hacked back in 2014, mak­ing it “the big­gest known in­tru­sion of one com­pany’s com­puter net­work,” ac­cord­ing to The New York Times.

It’s not just our email that can be tar­geted. Hack­ers can at­tack any­where. I was re­cently in a meet­ing with a client about an es­tate re­view and the at­tor­ney rec­om­mended a re­vo­ca­ble trust for the fam­ily be­cause as­sets do not go through pro­bate — mean­ing they aren’t pub­lic and do not go through the court sys­tem. Since hack­ers can tar­get pub­lic files, this would keep the fam­ily’s fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion pro­tected by keep­ing it pri­vate.

Ex­actly how fre­quently is iden­tity theft oc­cur­ring? Ac­cord­ing to the Bureau of Jus­tice Statis­tics, 17.6 mil­lion Amer­i­cans were vic­tims of iden­tity theft in 2014. As on­line bank­ing is be­com­ing the most con­ve­nient op­tion for many in­vestors, your fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion can be in dan­ger if you don’t pro­tect your­self. Let’s look at a few of the pre­cau­tions I rec­om­mend to my clients.

Be cau­tious on­line

Your on­line ac­counts are vul­ner­a­ble, and hav­ing a strong pass­word to any pro­file or email is crit­i­cal. Of­ten, peo­ple use the same pass­word for all of their on­line ac­counts, mak­ing theft much eas­ier for hack­ers. Con­sider us­ing a va­ri­ety of pass­words—each ac­count should have a dif­fer­ent pass­word. That

way, if some­one fig­ures out one of your pass­words, the rest of your ac­counts are still safe.

Also, make sure you’re se­lec­tive with se­cu­rity ques­tions on each of your ac­counts. For ex­am­ple, if your home­town is listed on your Face­book and your se­cu­rity ques­tion for mo­bile bank­ing asks where you were born, a hacker could eas­ily guess the an­swer. In­stead, con­struct a se­cu­rity ques­tion that only you would know the an­swer to, and some­thing that can­not be found on­line.

Fi­nally, pro­tect what you post. Limit who can view your pro­file, as a pub­lic ac­count makes you more vul­ner­a­ble to be­ing hacked. Be es­pe­cially cau­tious about what you post while you are trav­el­ing.

Care­fully man­age printed doc­u­ments

Al­ways shred printed doc­u­ments with sen­si­tive per­sonal in­for­ma­tion in­stead of throw­ing them away. And when you are send­ing per­sonal or fi­nan­cial doc­u­ments, avoid plac­ing them in your mail­box with the flag up, as they can eas­ily be stolen. In­stead, drop your mail off at the post of­fice to pre­vent theft.

Never dis­cuss fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion over the phone

One of the most cru­cial tips I can of­fer is to never dis­cuss fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion over the phone. Too of­ten this leads to iden­tity theft. In fact, ac­cord­ing to Main­stay In­vest­ments’ re­port, “Iden­tity Theft: When You Are the Tar­get,” phish­ing, or call­ing and pos­ing as a fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tion, is a top cause of iden­tity theft. Re­mem­ber to never post your phone num­ber on so­cial me­dia, and if you do re­ceive a sus­pi­cious call, don’t en­gage with the caller. It’s best to dis­cuss fi­nances in per­son with your trusted fi­nan­cial ad­vi­sor, rather than over the phone.

Check your credit

I rec­om­mend that my clients check their credit twice a year to make sure no new ac­counts have been opened in their name. It hap­pens more of­ten than you’d ex­pect, and keep­ing a close eye on your credit can help you de­tect sus­pi­cious be­hav­ior that you may have oth­er­wise missed.

Hack­ers not only have the abil­ity to in­vade so­cial me­dia ac­counts, on­line bank­ing and emails, but they can also pen­e­trate the se­cu­rity of net­works we ex­pect will keep us safe, like the re­cent at­tack on Ya­hoo users. But if you’re es­pe­cially cau­tious and at­ten­tive, you can pro­tect your­self and keep your sen­si­tive per­sonal and fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion pri­vate.

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