It is New Year’s resolution time again. You may be planning to lose weight, get in shape, or firm up your finances. But here’s one resolution we should all follow — to better protect our privacy in 2019.
Resolving to do a better job protecting your privacy will not show up when you get on the scale, but the hidden benefits can be enormous. For example, who wouldn’t want to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft?
By following the simple steps below, you’ll be much less likely to fall victim to an identity thief.
• Read every monthly credit card and financial account statement like a hawk. Make sure every charge or withdrawal is legitimate. Immediately contact your credit card issuer or financial institution if you find any errors.
• Get your free annual credit report from each of the credit reporting agencies: TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. Spread them throughout the year. For example, get your first free report from one of the companies in January, from another company in May, and from the third in September. Go to: AnnualCreditReport.com, the only truly free online source of credit reports.
• Hang up on phone calls asking for personal information such as a Social Security or Medicare number, or a credit card number. Also, don’t fall for official sounding names. Government agencies, real businesses, family members and friends will never call “out of the blue” and ask for your personal information.
• Be on guard against scams that ask you to wire money somewhere or to buy a gift card or loadable debit card and share the password. The caller may claim to be a relative or friend in immediate need of money. Don’t believe it! This is a very common scam.
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• Be very cautious if you receive unexpected emails from friends, fellow employees, or even your boss asking you to open an attachment. Scam artists use this trick to embed spyware in your computer’s hard drive. They then use the spyware to steal personal information, such as financial account passwords.
• Use better passwords and change them regularly. Make your passwords long and complex. Use a combination of upper and lowercase letters, plus numbers and symbols. Don’t use the same passwords for multiple accounts. If multi-factor security is available, use it. Don’t choose a parent’s name before marriage as part of the multi-factor security because scam artists can easily find that information in public records.
• Reduce credit card solicitations by opting out of prescreened credit offers. Go to: www.optoutprescreen.com
Finally, if you become a victim of identity theft, visit our website, IowaIDTheft.org, for advice on what to do to avoid future problems and recover from the scam.
There are 21 members of the Iowa Identity Theft Victim Assistance Coalition including various government agencies, advocacy organizations, academic institutions and social service providers. The coalition was formed in late 2017 under a federal grant to help local groups better coordinate efforts to assist identity theft victims in Iowa.
• Bill Brauch is director of the Iowa Identity Theft Victim Assistance Coalition. Comments: IowaIDTheft.org