As the use of personal computers and cell phones has grown over the last two decades, so too has identity theft. Cyber criminals are constantly on the prowl to steal sensitive personal information such as: Social Security numbers, bank account and credit card numbers, passwords, medical information, and access to your cell phone.
As identity theft has become more internet based, hackers are using emails to “phish” or trick you into sharing your information and access to your devices.
Primary targets for identity theft continue to be bank accounts, credit cards, and personal information, but theft of medical information and hacking cell phones has been on the rise. As a response to these threats, Identity theft protection and cybersecurity services have grown considerably over the last decade.
But it’s important to understand one key point– Identity Theft protection services don’t actually stop identity theft. There is no fool-proof way to stop identity theft from happening, there’s just too many different types of valuable information and avenues for cyberthieves to hack them. The Federal Trade Commission actually prohibits Identity Theft services from using the word “prevention”, and if a company is promoting that as part of their service they should not be trusted.
Typically, these companies offer subscription-based options that charge on a monthly or annual basis providing identity and credit monitoring, and then issue alerts if they detect any fraudulent activity. They will also offer resolution services and even insurance to help fix incidences of identity theft. Individual plans, family plans, and multiple-device plan options are common. Also, banks and credit card companies now routinely offer fraud detection services as a standard service for their customers.
Identity Fraud services offer a variety of plans at different levels of service based on price:
- A basic plan would typically include: Credit monitoring and reports with an identity recovery service, but would not offer alerts or monitoring of credit card and bank accounts.
- A mid-level plan would typically also include: Dark web surveillance, social network alerts, and monitoring of credit cards and bank accounts. Recovery services usually include specialists that work with you to resolve identity theft problems.
- A premium level plan would typically also include: Medical ID monitoring, credit reports and scores from the three bureaus, sex offender registry reports, and account notifications that show attempts to open new accounts with your information. Some services will also offer cybersecurity computer protections, such as safe-browsing tools, virus protection, a virtual private network and other security tools.
But regardless of any service you would use, no one can be disengaged from protecting their own identity. Subscribing to an Identity Theft protection service is only one part of a smart protection strategy for yourself. It’s important to take care of your identity and credit health with smart and regular maintenance, just like you do with your physical health. At a minimum, never give anyone that you don’t know your social security number or access to your computer, but there a number of measures people to protect their identity from cyberscammers.
Here is a 6-Step Plan to a Safer Identity:
- Never give your Social Security number, bank account numbers, or Credit Card numbers to anyone asking for them via phone or email
- Review bank account activity on a weekly basis or more
- Register for credit card and bank alerts by text and email notifying you of any suspicious activity
- Create strong passwords mixing upper- and lower-case letters with numbers and symbols, and avoid using the same password for every account
- Monitor your credit reports from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.
- If you detect fraudulent activity with your credit card or bank account, immediately notify them and either cancel the card or freeze your account. If you believe there could be a problem with your credit, you can place a credit freeze by phone with each credit agency’s customer service line.
Identity theft and cyber security are a very real threat in today’s Internet connected world. We all live online and are exposed to a lot of risk if we don’t do the right things to protect ourselves.
Having a plan in place to protect yourself that combines active vigilance with Identity Theft protection services increases your chance of surviving in the cyberjungle.
Chris Orestis, President of LifeCare Xchange and known as the Retirement Genius, is a nationally recognized senior care advocate and expert in retirement, long-term care and specialty senior living funding solutions. The author of two books, numerous published papers and articles, and a frequent industry speaker; he is the innovator that brought the LTC Life Settlement into the market over a decade ago.