Like you, I hear about identity theft on the news all the time. I shake my head and then change the channel to something more interesting, because frankly identity theft has become so prevalent that we only half-listen to reports about it. It’s like growing old. It happens to other people, not to me. And really, there’s not much you can do about it.
Wrong. It’s called denial. Did you know that the FBI asserts that one out of thirty-six people will be mugged this year? So realistically, the odds aren’t that bad. But listen to this one: the FBI states that one out of three people will have their identity stolen this year. And get this: the average monetary loss from a mugging is around $2000, while the average loss from identity theft is $7000.
Last year, 260,000 people had their tax refunds go to identity thieves. Yahoo got hacked in 2014. The hackers stole passwords and vital information belonging to 1 billion people. Of course, Yahoo didn’t immediately report it, which was a bad move. But now they are paying the price: Verizon was thinking about acquiring Yahoo for $4.8 billion. Now Verizon is re-thinking the situation. And let’s face it, Yahoo is a sinking ship anyway, so they need someone to buy them.
Once upon a time, I had my Facebook account hacked. I don’t know why, but it was. Just getting that mess cleared up was a pain in the tuches. So imagine the hassle, cost, time and effort it would take to clean up the after effects of someone stealing your credit card or social security number. I mean they could buy house on a 30-year mortgage with the right information, and you get stuck with the mortgage payments. Try telling the mortgage company you had nothing to do with it. You know how nameless, faceless bankers operate. They don’t care; they just want their money. And your name is on the mortgage.
Attorney fees alone will push you into penury. Next thing you know, you’ll be literally living in box under a bridge and living off of food stamps or standing at the end of the offramp begging for money, enduring the scornful sneers of the people in the cars.
So what do you do to protect yourself? And what do you do if you think someone has gained access to your information? I contacted Areyo Dadar, a cybersecurity expert at LifeLock, who told me that you should do the following: place a freeze on your credit report. Creditors will still be able to see it, but non-creditors won’t have access to it. The cost for this service is $10.
Second, beware of phishing scams. I get them all the time. Someone posing as PayPal or American Express sends me an e-mail telling me I need to update my account. The email looks real and usually claims that unauthorized transactions have occurred. Fear encompasses me and I want to take care of it immediately. Don’t click on anything in the email. PayPal and American Express and other legit companies do not send out emails. And when in doubt, call PayPal and tell them what’s going on. They’ll tell you it’s a scam.
Third, switch to an encrypted email provider, like Proton Mail or Sendinc. There are many of them. Pick one and, according to Areyo Dadar, don’t get lazy with your passwords. Use strong, convoluted passwords to protect your accounts.
In fact, Areyo provided me with a great list of things to do to protect against identity theft. You can find it here. It’s called No Identity Theft and it’s a free resource for consumers. It provides contact numbers and all the information you’ll need.
Don’t be like me and put it off because it’s a hassle and “I have a life, ya know.” Think of it like flossing your teeth. It’s preventative. Dental floss is dirt cheap compared to a root canal and a gold crown.