November 27, 2017
Guest column

Protect against identity theft and fraud

Ainsworth

Computer information about you lives forever and can be the source of identity theft or even an accidental identity change. Here's my true story.

My wife and I had a checking account (closed after the merger) with a bank absorbed into a bigger bank 30 years ago. Another couple with our exact names in New Jersey had a checking account with the same bigger bank.

A clerk selected the wrong couple, and our address was attached to the New Jersey couple's bank account. We received a bank notice about the account and called the police, and that uncovered the error.

Information never dies, it's just sleeping somewhere.

Identity theft seemingly happens on grand scales all the time.

As the year rounds out to a close in 2017, E Sports, Xbox, InterContinental Hotels Group, Arby's, Dun & Bradstreet, Saks Fifth Avenue and the FAFSA student loan system were all hacked for personal information about their customers.

This follows 2016 in which more than 1 billion accounts maintained by Yahoo were hacked and the Russian hacking of political sites during the presidential election.

Clearly, we as individuals cannot control any of these corporate hacks.

But we can be on the lookout for signs of theft and take steps protect our personal information.

Here are examples of easy to do protections.

1. Protect your passwords by using Lastpass or Keeper or OneLogin (I'm not endorsing these, just citing them as examples) or a similar password security system. They will even generate a random password for you and store it for later use.

2. Create random passwords not tied to your birthday or your address or a repeating number. There is an ongoing argument for multiple passwords (that you'll likely write down somewhere) or one password for every site (which is easier to decipher but not needed to be written down somewhere).

3. Monitors all three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) by accessing annualcreditreport.com.

4. Shred everything with personal information with a micro-cut shredder.

5. Never carry your social security or Medicare (it has your social security number on it) card around. Keep them filed away. If you must carry it, make a copy and black out all but the last four digits.

6. Never give out personal information. If someone calls you, call them back with a phone number you found through the internet or a phone book.

7. Obtain online accounts for your bank and credit card accounts. This allows you to monitor the activity.

8. Lock your mailbox so no one can steal mail that might contain pieces of personal information.

9. Close out unused credit cards.

10. Avoid using public Wi-Fi, especially when shopping or conducting financial transactions. Your information can be stolen more easily than from your home network.

11. Opt out of unsolicited credit card offers thru www.optoutprescreen.com, a site managed by the credit bureaus.

12. Respond immediately if you think you are a victim. Place a security freeze on your credit reports that stops them from releasing any information about you without written permission.

13. Watch out for fake emails letting thieves track your computer key strokes. Don't download files or click on links from people you do not know. Always download updates for your computer operating system.

14. Use a post office box to mail out checks and remove your mail from your mailbox promptly.

Bob Ainsworth, CPA is the former chief financial officer of New England Business Media, the parent company of Worcester Business Journal, Hartford Business Journal and MaineBiz. He is the author of "A Fraud Of The Ponzi Kind," a crime thriller featuring a fraud detective, Harold A. Bradford III.

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