Protect Your Neck: Avoiding a Personal Security Attack

With every crisis comes a ton of identity thieves and fraudsters; the COVID pandemic is no different. Having your identity compromised can be a nightmare. On top of dealing with the uncomfortable feeling that someone has invaded your privacy you’re forced into crisis management to avoid further collateral damage.  While many of us have previously taken this topic lightly, attitudes are quickly shifting due to the percentage of time we spend communicating, working and transacting on our phones and computers.

As of May 28, 2020, the Internet Crime Complaint Center received nearly the same amount of complaints in 2020 (about 320,000) as they had for the entirety of 2019 (about 400,000). In addition, the Federal Trade Commission reported a 46% year-over-year increase in identity thefts from 2018 to 2019.

I predict this number will be higher in 2020 and continue to rise through 2021.  Avoiding the attitude, it will never happen to me is the first step to protecting your identity. It’s important to understand that you can be a victim of identity theft even if you have bad credit, a small bank account and no job. Although, there’s no bullet proof strategy for avoiding identity theft, implementing a few best practices can provide you piece of mind and may reduce the time you are inconvenienced.

 

Invest in Identity Protection

Sign up for identity theft protection. Every major credit card company and commercial bank offers this service. It usually ranges from $10-$30 per month. I suggest purchasing a package that monitors all three reports: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.

If you’d prefer an independent provider, I recommend LifeLock. They have services that not only protect your credit but monitor all activity using your name and social security number. If you experience a breach these services will help sort through the mess and save you a lot of time.

 

Update your Contact Information

Ensure your contact information is updated on all your bank, credit and other important accounts. They will often reach out to you if they see abnormal activity on your account. Recently, I couldn’t gain access to my account because the verification code was going to an old cell number. I’d never been locked out of my account and had to jump through hoops to confirm my identity.   Thankfully it wasn’t one of my major accounts, but the experience was totally avoidable. This is an easy win but it’s a step we sometimes overlook.

 

Embrace Unique Passwords

Your passwords need to be unique and different for all your accounts. I know it’s a pain to keep track of them all, but an easy password is like leaving your front door unlocked. Passwords should include numbers, special characters and both upper and lower case letters.  They should not be your birthday, address, phone number or anything else that can be found in a simple Google search. While short passwords are easy to remember, using the maximize number of characters permissible significantly reduces the chances an attacker will crack it.

 

Back it Up

Backup all the information on your cell phone and computer. I recommend using an external hard drive and committing to a time in your schedule biweekly or monthly to ensure the information is updated.  I know everything is in the “cloud’ these days, but there were over 9,600 reported data breaches last year, so a good old fashion tangible hard drive is still a safe bet.   

 

Spot Phishing Emails

Phishing is a scam where criminals send a fake email that appears to be legitimate to steal your access codes and gain access to personal or company data. Over the past six months, I’ve received several emails claiming my Apple ID was used to make a purchase.  If I wasn’t conscious, I would have exposed my personal information. To avoid a phishing attack be sure to check the sender’s address and ask yourself, “do I know this person and does this person usually send this type of request to me?”  Review the email address not the name shown. It’s usually long and abnormal.  Phisher’s emails also frequently try to convey a sense of urgency creating the feeling that you need to act immediately.

Being proactive can decrease the stress and anxiety that arises when your identity and safety have been jeopardized. Trust me, I’ve had my share of scars and attempts of my information being compromised. Let my hindsight be your 20/20.

 

Copyright © Manyell L. Akinfe-Reed 2020 All Rights Reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced without written consent from the author.

Sam Cook. Identity theft facts & statistics: 2019-2020. Comparitech, https://www.comparitech.com/identity-theft-protection/identity-theft-statistics/