How to protect yourself against identity theft

The JP Morgan Chase data breach could affect thousands of Arizonans with deposits, loans, investments or other ties.

Here are some general steps you can take to protect yourself if you are the victim of identity theft or your account information has been stolen. Nobody can fully protect themselves, but these tips can put the odds in your favor.

– Routinely check bank and credit card statements.

Look for unauthorized activity. Don’t focus just on large transactions – thieves often hope that small purchases will fly under the radar. If you don’t challenge small charges, thieves could become bolder later. As part of your vigilance, order your three free reports each year – one from each of the three main credit bureaus – at annualcreditreport.com. Again, look for unauthorized activity and accounts you didn’t open.

– Safeguard hard copies of sensitive documents. Shred documents, including bills and payment stubs, before throwing them away. Drop outgoing mail in secure mailboxes only. Don’t forget to safeguard sensitive documents from family members.

– Set up automatic transaction alerts. Set up transaction alerts on bank and credit cards. That way, you will learn quickly if someone is attempting to use one of your accounts. Financial firms will let you set up the alerts for free. Make them part of your routine monitoring efforts.

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– Avoid clicking on strange e-mail attachments. Phishing scams use unsolicited e-mail messages aimed at encouraging recipients to respond and divulge sensitive information. The messages are becoming more targeted, often involving a reference to somebody you know or an activity you’re engaged in. Phishing scams are also used to plant computer viruses.

– Use strong passwords.Passwords should involve a mix of numbers, special characters and both upper- and lowercase letters. Protect smartphones with passwords and anti-virus or malware software.

– Don’t provide personal information to solicitors. Phone callers sometimes promise vacations, discounted computer service or winning prize offers to get you to divulge personal information. But you won’t always know why they want your information, or who really is calling. Just say no.

– Be cautious with social media interactions. Interactions on Facebook, Twitter and other sites can be used to target you. Seemingly innocent information that consumers or employees post on these websites can provide insights that criminals can then exploit.

– Be cautious about paying with wire transfers. Thieves pursuing scams ask to be paid by wire transfers more often than credit cards. And once the money is gone with a wire transfer, it’s gone. By contrast, credit- and even debit-card transactions offer important protections.

– Protect your computers and laptops. Don’t leave laptops with sensitive customer records unattended. Don’t click on suspicious computer attachments.

– Check your children’s credit. Consider putting a security freeze on your child’s account or even your own by calling any of the three main credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. A freeze will prevent unauthorized charges and account openings, though you’ll need to remove it temporarily if you need to borrow money.

– Use your debit card like a credit card. When you’re paying for a purchase with a debit card and you are given the option of making either a debit or a credit transaction, opt for credit. This will mean you’ll sign for the purchase, rather than inputting your PIN number. Why is this important? Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, federal law limits your responsibility for unauthorized charges to $50 on credit purchases.

Article source: http://www.azcentral.com/story/money/business/2014/10/03/how-to-protect-yourself-against-identity-theft/16681565/

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