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By Jay Gershman, Retirement Visions LLC, West Hartford
I’m going to give you some statistics that might not surprise you, but should certainly alarm you. The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) recently released their annual Data Breach Report and the numbers are scary, to say the least.
Last year there were 1,579 data breaches exposing nearly 179 million records, a 44 percent increase in the number of breaches and a 389 percent increase in records exposed in one year.
Credit card numbers exposed totaled 14.2 million, up 88 percent year on year and nearly 158 million Social Security numbers were exposed, eight times the amount from the year before.
Closer to home, Connecticut has the 12th highest per capita rate of reported identity theft complaints in the country. If you’re wondering, the top five are Michigan, Florida, California, Maryland, and Nevada.
If you haven’t had a credit card stolen or a tax refund compromised yourself, you probably know someone who has. A client of mine was renewing his home equity line and reviewing his credit report as part of the routine process. He noticed that there was a credit card in his name with an Orlando address and a $14,976 balance. After notifying his bank about the fraud, he discovered that the perpetrators had moved his home phone from one carrier to another and used a burner phone with his phone number to make calls to his financial institutions.
To make a long story short, what followed was hours and days of regaining his identity. Once he was able to prove that he was the victim, he was able to lock his credit and begin the process of getting his financial life back in order. The entire ordeal was time-consuming and stressful, especially having to prove that he was who he said he was.
My client’s story is just one of the thousands in Connecticut each year. Shockingly, it typically takes three months for most people to discover that their identity has been stolen and 16 percent of people don’t find out for three years!
So what can you do? Here are five simple tips to protect yourself and ensure that identity theft doesn’t happen to you.
- Call all three bureaus and lock your credit. If you decide to apply for credit, it can be unlocked easily on your phone by entering a six-digit code.
- Tell each credit bureau not to share your name with credit card companies to avoid the credit card applications that can be physically stolen from your mail. On this point, collect your mail every day – don’t leave it in the mailbox for someone to grab.
- Monitor your bank accounts – thieves with your social security number and other personal information might be able to divert your bank assets from right under your nose.
- Add a text alert on your credit cards and bank accounts that notify you of transactions. Add two-factor authentication to your bank login that requires a text code.
- Use a shredder to discard any paperwork that contains sensitive information. While cyber-fraud is on the rise, it’s very easy for a scammer to dig through the trash to get access to your information. Don’t make it easy for them.
As careful as you might be, you can still become a victim – it’s as easy as having your credit card unknowingly skimmed at a gas pump. However, having your data compromised doesn’t necessarily mean that identity theft will happen to you. As long as you’re vigilant and take the steps required, you’ll be in the best place to catch a thief before they make a mess of your financial life.
Jay Gershman is the Owner and Founder of Retirement Visions LLC, a West Hartford-based financial planning firm that focuses on comprehensive life planning and financial management. For more information, visit www.allset2retire.com. Information and advice are for guidance only and opinions expressed belong solely to the author. Securities offered through Securities Service Network, LLC. Member FINRA/SIPC. Fee based services are offered through SSN Advisory, Inc., a registered investment advisor.
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