§Protect your data§to keep funds secure – Albuquerque Journal
Let’s start with an assumption: All your personal data is available on the dark web.
The dark web contains stolen information. Steve Symanovich, in an article for computer security firm Norton, states: “When there’s been a data breach, there’s a chance the accessed information – from Social Security numbers to bank card numbers – will end up on the dark web.”
An article by Darren Guccione, CEO and co-founder of Keeper Security, Inc., states that on the dark web “you can buy credit card numbers, all manner of drugs, guns, counterfeit money, stolen subscription credentials, hacked Netflix accounts, and software to break into other people’s computers.”
Computer hacks in recent years have impacted many corporations, including medical firms, banks, brokerage firms, and government agencies. The most recent major hack of the computer software company SolarWinds is likely still infecting computers throughout the U.S. This is not a problem we can ignore. It was recently reported that theft of money from 401k investment accounts is increasing.
If we accept that our financial and personal information is already accessible to criminals, our job is to protect ourselves – as much as possible. I recommend three strategies.
Review your bank statements, investment accounts, and credit card statements every month. Financial firms want us to agree to stop receiving paper statements. I disagree with this, because it makes it more likely that a consumer/investor will forget to check the statements online. It is easy to forget doing this perhaps for many months. Regardless of whether your statements arrive via snail mail or online, I strongly recommend you check them every month. Look for any suspicious entries, and call the financial firm immediately if you find something unusual. Stolen credit card numbers being used fraudulently is common, and fortunately, most credit card companies have become extremely helpful when this occurs. However, you must notify them quickly of the fraudulent activity.
Never respond to unexpected emails or phone calls. I hear far too often of people falling prey to scams. These can come through phone calls or through an email that looks legitimate, but is not. I recommend you hang up on any caller who you do not know. You can also set up “caller ID” and not answer any unexpected calls. For emails, never open a link or respond to an email you are not expecting. Cyber criminals are creative, and often send emails with names and logos from credit card firms, banks, etc., that look legitimate. You do not need to become an investigative expert, but it is important to be diligent and cautious.
Freeze your credit files with the three main credit reporting agencies. This strategy is extremely important! I recommended it to all my clients after the Equifax breach in 2017, which exposed the personal information of an estimated 147 million people. The Equifax breach was the “wake-up” call that warned us that much of our personal information had been stolen and is on the dark web.
Freezing your credit files is the best way to prevent someone from accessing your credit. Although it doesn’t prevent all nefarious activity, it prevents someone from accessing your credit report. This prevents fraudsters who would need your credit report to open a loan or credit card in their name. Placing a freeze on your credit reports does not prevent people who already have access to your credit history, but it prevents unauthorized access.
As of 2018, freezing your credit with the three major credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – is free, a§§nd does not impact your credit score. It can be done online or via a phone call. You must keep the username and passwords you set up for each credit bureau. Keep them in a safe place so they are accessible when you want to lift the credit freeze. Each credit bureau uses a different system on their websites, so it is likely that your passwords will not be the same for each bureau. Therefore, be careful and keep good notes as you go through the process.
The credit freezes will stay in place unless you unfreeze them. If you want to buy a car – and take out a loan – you will likely need to lift (reverse) the credit freeze. However, the merchant can often tell you which credit agency they use. If they say they need to pull a credit report from TransUnion, then you only need to unfreeze the TransUnion file. If you refinance your mortgage or take out a new mortgage, or if you change cell phone services, or if you are requesting a new credit card, these activities will likely trigger a request for a credit report. The credit bureaus will allow you to unfreeze your credit for a specified number of days or permanently.
Note that the credit agencies will try to sell you services on their websites. I recommend you skip these, as well as services like LifeLockâ„¢. Freezing your credit files helps prevent criminals from accessing your financial information. In other words, you are preventing the fraud from occurring. LifeLockâ„¢ and similar companies provide after-the-fact services that, in my view, are far less useful.
You have worked hard to grow your savings and investments, and financial security is important. Take the steps described above, and you will be helping to protect your financial future.
Donna Skeels Cygan, CFP, MBA, is the author of “The Joy of Financial Security.” She has been a fee-only financial planner in Albuquerque for over 20 years, and is the branch manager for the Mercer Advisors office in New Mexico. Contact her at [email protected]