Important Ways YOU Can Avoid Fraud Now

( – Fraud seems to be everywhere. From identity theft from data breaches to scams concocted to part you from your money, new ways to be ripped off continue to increase. The Insurance Information Institute reported that in 2021, 5.7 million reports were made to the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network, with 49 percent of those reports created for fraud, and 25 percent created for identity theft. It is more important than ever to remain alert. Below are 5 easy tips for keeping yourself (and your finances) safe.

Watch Your Credit Score and Bank Balance

Each year, everyone is entitled to one free copy of their credit report. This allows you to view and report any unlawful behavior sooner than if you hadn’t gotten your report. Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian are the three credit reporting companies, and you could potentially keep track of credit activity by pulling a free credit report from each of these organizations at various points during the year. Customers can also set up alerts to receive notifications with some of these reporting companies, so you can be aware whenever an account is opened in your name or with the use of your personal information.

Keep an eye on your bank statements and your online account activities. Scammers with access to your account, debit card, or checking information may start with small purchases to test the waters before moving on to drain your account. The sooner you recognize that your account is being used fraudulently, the faster you can stop it.

Watch Your Mail

One of the least sophisticated, and often overlooked, methods to become a victim of identity theft in a high-tech society is through the mail. According to US News and World Report, fraudsters can gather information from outdated mail, such as bank statements that have been tossed in the garbage, or simply by stealing mail right out of your mailbox. Be sure to bring in the mail every day. A postal hold can be put in place with your Post Office if you’re going to be away, or you could have a trusted neighbor grab it for you. In order to prevent identity theft from discarded mail in the trash, documents with personal information that are no longer needed should be shredded. Keep an eye on that junk mail, too, because you’ll want to shred those never-ending credit card offers as well.

Protect Your Devices

Being able to bank on an app is great, but if you do, you’ll want to set up that two-factor identification. Is it a pain sometimes? Sure. But if you have it set up, no one will be able to access your account if they happen to find your phone. Sometimes you can set up a pin, a fingerprint, or have a code sent to an email address that doesn’t go to your phone for added security.

Having a phone that is lost or stolen can go from inconvenience to emergency quickly if you don’t protect all those sensitive accounts from being potentially accessed by anyone who has your device.

At very least, be sure everything is password protected with unique passwords. Each account should have a password unlike all other passwords, without any identifying information like social security number digits, home address, or other words that could be associated with you.

A Safer Internet Experience

Phishing is a very popular method used by scammers to get personal information. You’ve likely seen this before. They will send you an email or text that looks to be from a well-known business, such PayPal, Fed EX, Walmart or Amazon. The email informs the user that in order to update their account details, get a refund, a shipment, or get a gift card they have been sent, they must click on a link. However, this is simply a way of persuading you to supply your personal information or to click on the link for control of your device. Keep in mind that reputable businesses would never request that you submit personal information via a link in an email or a text.

Also, be sure to have an antivirus and firewall, at very least, on your devices. There are plenty of great free options to help keep you safe from viruses, adware, keyloggers, and other malicious software that may track your usage, apps or keystrokes. These types of issues can easily lead to your identity or finances being stolen.

Don’t Forget About the Kids

About 1 in 50 children have their identities stolen each year, which means they are at an even greater risk than adults. While many children who are victims actually know the perpetrator, sometimes online activities or data breaches are the cause as well. If you have a child, it is possible to freeze their credit so that no one can get loans, open accounts, or get credit in their names or with their information. This can then be reversed when they are older. Of course, once that happens, they should use the other tips above to continue to safeguard their financial health.

When It Happens To You

If you’ve become a fraud or identity theft victim, consider reporting right away. You can complain to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), file a police report, and don’t forget to contact your bank, credit card companies, and loan services. You can also contact the places where your information was used without your permission. However, because it is a lot of work, not to mention stress, to take care of it afterwards, an ounce of prevention now can save you a big headache later.

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