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In the world today, technology is weaved through everything we do. According to Pew Research, about three-quarters of U.S. adults say they own a smart phone, while 50% of young adults say they live in a home with three or more. As the use of technology increases, the way technology is used also changes.

Most banks have an app for mobile banking, stores have apps for shopping so with a click of a button you can have almost anything delivered to your door. With these conveniences comes the danger when entering your payment and personal identifying information into these apps and saving your payment information to make future transactions more convenient. Earlier this month, Equifax announced hackers stole more information than was previously reported, approximately 2.4 million more Americans’ were affected, making it even more evident that it’s important to act to secure your information.

Below are the steps to take to help protect yourself from the worst consequences of data breach and identity theft, and what to do if you become a victim.

Prevention

It is always a good financial habit to your credit reports regularly throughout the year. They can be accessed at no cost on the www.annualcreditreport.com website which allows people to view their credit report from each of the three bureaus once every 12 months.

One of the best ways to know if someone is using your personal information to access your money is to frequently monitor your checking and savings account activity. Most banks and credit unions allow account holders to set passwords and add additional security measures that help reduce the chance of unauthorized transactions.

Although retailers encourage shoppers to store credit card and other personal information online as a convenience, we advise against saving your credit card information on those websites and always keeping your password secure. Time is critical when reacting to identity theft or credit fraud, and a good way to react quickly is to take advantage of email or text alerts that notify you as soon as transactions are processed. This is helpful for credit cards, checking and savings accounts. Even with alerts in place, you should review your regular monthly statements and report suspicious activity as quickly as possible.

If affected by a data breach:

  • You should be contacted by email or postal delivery with details about the time the incident may have occurred and details about your exposed personal information.
  • Financial institutions are required by federal law to inform their customers of any known breach activity.
  • As of now, there are 46 states that have laws requiring other businesses to take similar action.

Here are some steps you can take in situations where different types of personal information are exposed:

  • A Password

o Take immediate steps to change that password and consider using a different password for all your other accounts if that is not something you are already doing. o Avoid using simple passwords that are easy for others to figure out, like “12345” or “abcde,” and always include a variety of letters, numbers and non-alphanumeric characters whenever possible.

  • Your Credit Card Account Number

o If you have a technology enabled account that allows you to remotely control the card via an app, use that feature to lock access top that card. Otherwise, call the credit card issuer to request a new card with a new account number. Following a major data breach, your credit card company may automatically send you a new card as a proactive measure. Keep in mind that you are not liable for any authorized purchases under the Fair Credit Billing Act when you card number is stolen.

  • Your Debit Card Number

o You are not liable for any unauthorized transactions if you report them to your bank or credit union within 60 days of receiving your statement. o Immediately change your personal identification number (PIN) and cancel the card. o Don’t take any chances if your checking or savings account number was exposed. Request a new account with a different number. o Request additional layers of security like verbal passwords and photo identification to prevent your bank or credit union from discussing your account with anyone unable to provide the correct password or match your photo on record.

  • Your Social Security Number (SSN)

o Place a fraud alert on your account by contacting one of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian or TransUnion). o The credit bureau you contact will then reach out to the other two agencies to inform them of the fraud alert. o The fraud alert cautions lenders to take extra care verifying personal information before issuing credit and entitles you to a free credit report from each agency after the alert is in place. o Although not an ideal solution for every circumstance, consider placing a credit freeze on your account. Once in place, a freeze will prevent a credit bureau from releasing your report or score without your permission.

Consider Credit Monitoring When Offered as Compensation:

Some companies have been known to offer free access to credit monitoring services when notifying customers of a data breach. These free offers are typically time sensitive and the service will convert to a fee-based program after a year or two. While most monitoring services offer nothing more than you could do for yourself for free, it doesn’t hurt to consider taking advantage of an offer while you don’t have to pay anything for the product. Having your data stolen or at risk of being used for theft can be a very stressful event. Know that you are not alone. Nationwide Credit Experts can help you sort through the mess and make recommendations as to what steps to take!