In 2019, about 23,000 people in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky reported cases of identity theft.1 That’s a lot of people, but Ohio is roughly in the middle of the pack compared to the rest of the country. Throughout the United States, identity theft is a growing problem—in 2019, it accounted for more than 20% of fraud claims reported to the Federal Trade Commission, more than any other category.2
Identity theft occurs when someone else uses your personally identifiable information, like your Social Security number or credit card information, without your permission. Criminals can use this information for a variety of fraudulent activities, such as opening a new line of credit, taking out a loan, or filing taxes in your name and claiming a refund. That activity can leave you with bad credit, unexpected tax bills, or even a criminal record—on top of the time and energy it takes to resolve the situation.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to decrease the risk of identity theft. Here are four ways to secure your accounts and protect your personal information.
When identity thieves look for access to your personal information, they typically target your online accounts. Creating strong passwords, and changing them often, can help thwart their efforts and protect your information.
To make passwords difficult to guess, they should be least 12 characters long and include a combination of capital and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. Aim to change your passwords every 90 days, and use different passwords for different accounts.
Take advantage of two-factor authentication when available. This approach provides another layer of security: You must authorize access to your account using another personal device and your password. But be on the lookout for fake or unexpected prompts for two-factor authentication. If you are not trying to access your account, disregard any prompts or text messages asking to approve access or to provide a security code.
Just like a strong password is a necessity, it is important to have a different unique username for all your online banking accounts. You should never use the same username you use for other banks, subscription services, or social media accounts. This way, if an account on another platform gets compromised, your bank accounts are still safe. Generating a unique username known only to you is an added level of security for your accounts and is highly recommended. You can improve the strength of your username by avoiding your initial or actual name as well as by including uppercase letters and numbers.
Hackers can also access your information through spyware that you may not realize you’ve downloaded on your computer. Firewalls and antivirus programs can help protect you from malicious software that could put your information at risk. It’s important to make sure these programs are installed and active on your computer and keep them up to date. It’s a good idea to turn on automatic updates for them, if possible. Be careful with app downloads on your mobile devices. Download apps only from official app stores, and review the ratings and comments before installing them.
If you have to enter sensitive information over the internet, make sure you do so securely—and that the site you’re using is really the one you think it is. Always look for “https” at the beginning of a web address to ensure you’re on a secure site that uses encryption before you enter sensitive data like credit card numbers.
Also, keep in mind that there’s often no way to tell if a wireless hotspot at a coffee shop or hotel is secure. So try to avoid conducting private business, like accessing your bank account, when using public wireless networks.
Identity thieves may also use a trick called “phishing” where they send emails or text messages that look like they come from a reputable source, but send you to a bogus link asking for log-in credentials. Be wary of any email claiming to be from a government agency and asking for personal information. It’s best not to click on hyperlinks or open attachments you don’t recognize, and avoid giving information over the phone to people who call you and ask for it. Don’t reply to spam calls, emails, or text messages. When in doubt, contact the agency or company yourself using a published number before you give out your personal information.
Gaining access to your online accounts isn’t the only way someone could steal your identity. Carrying official documents like your Social Security card with you also makes you vulnerable. If you lose your purse or wallet, for instance, someone might find it and could gain access to that information. Criminals might also look through the trash for bank statements or government documents that contain Social Security numbers. So it’s a good idea to shred any outdated documents that contain personal information.
Regularly check your credit report for any suspicious activity. If you notice something you don’t recognize, place a fraud alert or freeze on your credit file by contacting one of the three national credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You can access a free credit report once a year from each of these agencies at annualcreditreport.com.3
If you do experience identity theft, it’s crucial to take action immediately. Contact local law enforcement first to file a police report, then call the Attorney General’s Office in your state to file a complaint.4
You can also file a complaint with the FTC online, or by calling 877-ID-THEFT.5 Be sure to notify your bank’s fraud department immediately as well. They can help you close or lock a compromised account to avoid any further financial damage. It’s also a good idea to continue to scan your bank statements for any unauthorized charges that may appear.
Nothing can completely protect you from identity theft, but taking steps to secure your personal information can decrease your risk.
1 FTC, Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2019. (https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/reports/consumer-sentinel-network-data-book-2019/consumer_sentinel_network_data_book_2019.pdf)
2 FTC, Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2019. (https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/reports/consumer-sentinel-network-data-book-2019/consumer_sentinel_network_data_book_2019.pdf)
3 Annual Credit Report.com (https://www.annualcreditreport.com)
4 Ohio Attorney General (https://www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov)
5 USA.gov (https://www.usa.gov/identity-theft)
The information on this page is accurate as of January 2021 and is subject to change. First Financial Bank is not affiliated with any third-parties or third-party websites mentioned above. Any reference to any person, organization, activity, product, and/or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement. By clicking on a third-party link, you acknowledge you are leaving bankatfirst.com. First Financial Bank is not responsible for the content or security of any linked web page. Member FDIC / Equal Housing Lender.
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