Last week I received a call from my financial institution asking if I was in Florida trying to buy groceries. Obviously I was nowhere near the area and they immediately put a fraud alert out on my credit card. I was immediately frustrated, angered, and disappointed. We put out alerts, we watch our accounts, and we even pay for an identity theft service. Yet every two seconds, yes, two seconds someone’s identity is stolen. The sad fact is that we have become so dependent on technology over the last 20 years that short of completely giving up every electronic means of finance, communication, entertainment, and operating strictly on a cash basis, we run the risk of identity theft. There is hope, but you must be disciplined, cautious, and prudent in how you use your personal information.
Yes, my identity was stolen. I feel like a fool. Was it my fault, maybe? Like most of my millennial counterparts, I have grown up on the ever increasing use of technology. We grew up sending emails, chatting on-line, and keeping tabs on our finances through websites and mobile devices. Now there is a host of social media sites, financial intermediaries, and applications that collect data we happily divulge about our personal lives for the return of technological convenience. Tough to say, but I don’t know if my grandfather’s generation would approve about how hastily my millennial generation shares important personal details so openly.
Growing up, a Social Security Number was something you never even thought of writing down or giving to a stranger. Now it has become standard practice on financial applications, websites, even applications on our phone. Financial data is even more freely given away to a host of “budgeting apps,” polls, surveys, salesmen, even entertainment wedges away personal data when you “signup.” Where does it end? Looking back, are you also freely giving away your personal data?
Some resign themselves to the fact that “it is already out there.” With data breaches becoming more prevalent why bother? Every year I receive some sort of mailer – “Your information may have been compromised, please accept our sincere apologies and a free credit monitoring service.” In truth most credit monitoring does little but tells you that your data was stolen and someone is using it.
So what do we do? Now that we are scared and feeling hopeless. There are hundreds of websites that give tips on protecting yourself from identity theft. There are hundreds more that give tips on how to protect yourself online. Simply executing a Google search will point you in the right direction. After reading several of these tips from well-known publishers here is the mantra I have discovered.
Safeguard – Monitor – Act – Follow-up
Safeguard your information through disciplined distribution and careful consideration of its use. Monitor your accounts through credit reporting, your finical institutions, and your own observation of the transactions on your accounts. Act when you see something suspicious, you are alerted, or have been notified. Follow-up on the status of a fraud alert, action taken, or changes to your accounts.
Unfortunately identity thieves are clever and creative. They will get your information through hacking, stealing, or other means. You can make it harder for them to get this information through proper safeguards and disciplined use of your personal information. Many times you will be the first to discover a fraudulent charge or use of your information. Identity thieves have become smart and are executing small transactions that “run under the radar;” carefully comb your accounts on a regular basis for unauthorized charges. Identity thieves thrive on your inaction. As soon as you even suspect a fraudulent charge or use of your information contact your financial institution. Most companies have extensive fraud divisions and procedures for identity theft and will gladly help you through the process. One of the most important steps is to follow-up. After an unauthorized use of your information you need to try to figure out how it happened and safeguard against it. Simply catching the fraud is usually not enough.
Although identity theft is frustrating and angering, there are ways to protect your information and your identity. While the steps you take may not fully protect you all the time, they will make it harder for the thieves and easier for you to recover. Protecting yourself from identity theft through disciplined action and prudent use is important. You have dreamed, planned, saved, don’t forget to protect what you have worked hard to achieve.
Jonathon Rowles Captain, USMC (Ret.)
Disclaimer: (have to do it) – This blog should not be considered financial, investment, legal or tax advice. Consult your licensed financial professional, tax advisor or legal counsel. This blog is for educational purposes only.