By Oliver Clarke
In 2017, consumers lost $905 million to fraud, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Of course, that’s only counting what was caught and reported. Identity theft has become so commonplace that it is very likely that someone you know was a victim, or potential victim, of this type of fraud. So what can the average person do to protect themselves?
1. Beware of phishing attempts
Have you ever received an email that sounded a bit too good to be true? Or conversely, did it hold some extremely alarming information? Phishing attempts are when criminals try to lure you into giving out your personal information (like usernames and passwords) by misleading you into thinking you’re actually just logging into a trusted website, or speaking with a customer service representative of a trusted company. Instead of following links within emails, google the website and find it yourself. If it’s not a phishing attempt, you’ll be able to find the information.
2. Be cautious on social media
Many things that seem innocuous can actually be bids to gain information. For example, social media “games” where you combine your first pet’s name with the street you grew up on, or other such games, are used to get the answers to common security questions. Additionally, you may freely provide those sorts of answers by mentioning them on your social media, so be cautious about your privacy settings and how much information you really want to give out. Remember that once you put information out there on the internet, there’s no taking it back.
3. Use Two Factor Authentication
Many websites now will allow you to use a process called Two Factor Authentication (or alternatively, 2FA or Multi Factor Authentication) which ensures that you are the only one who can use your account, even if someone gets a hold of your password. For example, you log into your bank account on your computer, and then it automatically sends a text message to your phone containing a code to enter in as well within a set period of time. If you do not have possession of your username, password, and unlocked cell phone, then you cannot get into your account.
4. Consider upgrading your passwords
It’s difficult to create memorable, secure passwords. And since it is recommended to have a different password for each account, it is nearly a herculean task to keep track of them. Most people just have a few passwords of medium security value that they reuse, against the advice of experts. But you don’t have to be one of them. Password managers like LastPass and 1Password create ultra-secure randomized passwords for your accounts and store them in a single, safe location, hidden behind a master password and 2FA.
5. Take advantage of your free annual credit report
This tip is a little different than the rest, but in the age of online banking, you can access your financial information online to monitor fraud. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com every year to review your credit history. If anything seems strange, report it immediately. In the same vein, keep track of your banking history online. Hackers will usually withdraw a smaller amount here and there before they clean out your account. It’s better to catch them early.