Another week has passed since we’ve checked in with you on the Equifax data breach. We hope by now that most of you are starting to feel better about the identity safety measures you have put in place. Aside from the ideas we’ve already discussed in previous blog posts, here are a few more ways to keep yourself and your finances safe:
1. Do you access your financial accounts online? If so, call and ask your bank if they offer multi-layer authentication and alert measures. For example, rather than just requesting your username and password, some organizations also offer the ability to ping your email or cell phone with a message that provides a verification number, which is then required before access is granted. This will not only add another layer of protection when you login, it will also keep you notified if someone else tries to access your account. In addition, your financial institution may also offer alerts that call, message or email you any time there is a large purchase or transfer within your account, or anytime your ATM card is being used.
2. Be prepared for criminals to get creative and keep your eye out for phishing scams. Because many of us are flocking to credit and identity monitoring, hackers will likely pose as a reputable source offering these services. If you receive an email offering credit monitoring or other security software, do not click through the links in the email. That could send you to a fraudulent website or worse yet, install malware on your computer system which can further compromise your personal information. Instead, look up the number yourself and call the company directly.
3. It’s important to remember that criminals aren’t always making massive purchases with your information. Often, they’ll charge small amounts over time in an attempt to fly under the radar. Again, at this point we must assume that fraudsters have all of our personal information. It may be used today, next week or next year. We encourage you to make checking your financial activity a daily or at least weekly routine. Contact your bank or credit union right away with any suspicious or unrecognized charges.
4. Tax fraud is a quickly growing scam with cases predicted to increase next year due to this data breach and subsequent exposure of Social Security numbers. In 2016 alone, the IRS paid out $239 million in suspect refunds. As you wind down 2017, begin to collect important tax documents so that you’re able to file your taxes early. Of course, many of you will be beholden to 1099, K-1’s and other tax documents that take time; however, you can get some work done in advance. Begin with a list of the key information and documents you need so you can stay organized and mark items as they arrive. Work to gather and organize any receipts and records for deductible expenses. If you moved this year, be sure that financial institutions and past employers have your current mailing address. Tax fraud is a concern not only in 2018 but in the years beyond. Moving forward, consider adjusting your tax withholding. Doing so can give you more income with each paycheck and leave less on the table in the form of a refund that could be compromised. As with all tax adjustments, it’s a good idea to check with your CPA before making changes.