Protecting your Online Identity
Updated: Jul 3, 2019
In light of the recent Yahoo revelations that 500 million (or more!) users had their personal information stolen it may be a good time to check your online identity.
Identity theft in the form of stolen credit card or bank account information has become a nuisance most people will deal with at some point. The internet was built for openness and speed, not for security and with more and more services moving information online – medical, financial, educational, governmental – the number of target available to hackers has mushroomed. Many times these service leave your information, including birthdate, employment history, credit card information and social security number, vulnerable to attack.
Many organizations are now moving towards better security with encryption technology, monitoring software and two-factor authentication. In addition, financial companies in the United States are slowly improving some aspects of security by replacing strip credit cards with chip-enabled cards. But none of these changes guarantee your information won’t be compromised.
So what can you do to protect yourself?
Vigilantly monitor your bank accounts and credit card accounts
Change passwords often
Use a different password on every account
Opt for two-factor authentication when available
Disable any sites set to “remember” your login or payment information
Check your social media privacy settings
A credit report is a detailed report of an individual's credit history prepared by a credit bureau and used by a lender to in determining a loan applicant's creditworthiness. The credit reporting agency collects information about where you live and work, how you pay your bills, whether or not you have been sued, arrested, or filed for bankruptcy. All of this information is combined together into the credit report. These credit reporting agencies then sell your credit report to creditors, employers, insurers, and others who then use the reports to make decisions about extending credit, jobs, and insurance policies to you.
There are 3 main credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You are entitled to a free report every year from each agency. It is important to understand that these agencies cannot prevent identity theft, they can only report it. Even if you constantly monitor your credit report, you probably won’t realize your identity has been stolen until after the fact.
Nevertheless, you should:
Get the free credit reports you are entitled to annually
Set up fraud alerts with each agency - this won’t prevent identity theft, but will let you know if fraudulent activity occurs so you can prevent further damage or
freeze your credit report - this will prevent anyone from accessing your credit report without your explicit permission
If there are errors on your credit report you should have them corrected. Under the FCRA, Fair Credit Reporting Act, both the credit reporting company and the information provider (the person, company, or organization that provides information about you to a credit reporting company) are responsible for correcting inaccurate or incomplete information in your report.
Tell the credit agency, in writing, what information is inaccurate. The agency must investigate the items and send a notice of dispute to the organization that provided the information. The information provider must then review the information and report back to the credit agency. You should also tell the information provider directly, and in writing, that you are disputing an item on your credit report. Send them copies of documentation that supports your claim. Once the investigation is complete, the credit agency must give you a written report and a free copy of the corrected report. If you ask, they must send a corrected report to anyone who reviewed your credit in the last six months.
Although financial institutions and companies have a responsibility to protect their customers, taking some control over how your personal information is used and who has access to it can prevent some of the damage.
The contents of this writing are intended for general information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion in any specific facts or circumstances.