02 Dec How do you keep your spending info safe and sound this holiday season?
You bought a new car? That wasn’t you?!
Hi, it’s your Hendershott Wealth Management team, and holiday spending is in full swing with Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and last-minute online cart stuffing.
While dashing through the stores, your phone beeps.
What’s that, you just purchased a new Nintendo console in Dallas?
You’re not in Dallas. Nor are you shopping for someone who wants a new Nintendo console.
Your stomach drops, hands nervous, and it hits you – you’re the latest victim of identity theft!
*gasp* Eyes pop open as you jump awake. It’s the middle of the night, only a nightmare. Whew!
Unfortunately, the risk of identity theft spikes for many shoppers during the holiday season.
According to Javelin Strategy and Research, nearly 42 million Americans were victims of identity fraud in 2021 alone, costing consumers $52 billion in total losses. This was an increase of 79% from 2020!
So, how do you keep your spending info safe and sound this holiday season? Here are five quick and simple ways to protect yourself from identity theft through the holidays and into 2023…
1. Securely store your passwords.
We both know how important it is to protect our passwords, but the reality is your passwords are likely still vulnerable to outside access.
We recommend using a password vault such as 1Password or LastPass to securely store and share your passwords with the right people.
When creating a new password, LastPass can automatically generate complex passwords for virtually any website or application.
The best passwords typically consist of at least eight characters (consider using as many as 15) that are a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols (@, #, $, !, etc.) if allowed.
As convenient as it may be, please do not use the same password for multiple websites or applications. We recommend using a unique password for all mobile devices, laptops, applications, and websites.
For your banking PINs, it’s best not to use simple PINs, such as 1234, 9876, or an easy-to-guess four-digit number, like your birthday or anniversary.
Pro tip: Change your email and banking passwords monthly. This will keep your accounts secure and the bad guys on their toes.
2. Actively monitor your financial accounts.
There are two parts to actively monitoring your financial accounts. The first part is you need to review your financial transactions from your bank accounts, credit cards, and brokerage accounts on at least a weekly basis. Ideally, reviewing your accounts every day is the best approach.
This is the most effective and proactive way to catch any fraud that occurs in your accounts.
It’s likely you will have some type of fraudulent transaction in at least one of your accounts at one point in your life.
Reviewing your account activity on a weekly basis makes you aware of what may be happening so you can report it in a timely manner.
The second part is setting up a system of real-time alerts for your banks and credit cards.
You can receive alerts in the moment anytime there is a transaction above a certain dollar amount, like $250 as an example.
Pro tip: Carve out five minutes every morning to spot-check your accounts.
3. Staying safe while connected to WiFi.
Using a free Wi-Fi network, without confirming its security, is like handing over everything you search or do on your computer while you’re on it.
Whenever possible, don’t use public computers or open Wi-Fi. A worst-case scenario is that you log into your bank or email, forget to log out, and walk away from your device, leaving your information totally exposed.
It’s worth investing in your Personal HotSpot. This puts you in charge of your online activity while out in public.
If you need to use someone else’s computer, make sure you log out, and preferably clear the cache by going to the internet browser’s history and deleting everything after you’re done.
Before you dispose of a computer, do a full wipe of personal information. Use a wipe utility program, overwrite the entire hard drive, or restore it to factory defaults.
Pro tip: Assume anything you access via a public network can be accessed by the public.
4. Wisely monitor your credit usage.
Heading out for a night on the town? You don’t need to take all your credit cards with you.
Yes, it’s more convenient to have all your cards in your wallet, but if your wallet ‘grows legs’, would you rather lose one card or all your cards?
Of course, the answer is ideally none of your cards, but that’s not always the case.
Leave all your cards at home except the ones you absolutely need for that evening.
You may also consider having a backup credit card or debit card in case your main card is compromised.
Another wise decision is to request (and review) your annual credit report so you can spot any unauthorized use of your credit.
Most sites recommend once a year, but it’s better to use a continual monitoring service.
There are many sites that offer to check your credit score for free, but they typically provide your credit report from only one of the three credit reporting agencies.
Be careful – the free credit reporting services often summon massive amounts of email spam, which essentially nullifies the entire point.
The only free credit report comes from annualcreditreport.com.
Pro tip: Keep a list of companies and credit and bank accounts handy at home so if you are victimized, you can report it quickly.
5. Protect your deceased loved ones’ legacy from identity fraud.
According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, as many as 2.5 million deceased individuals become the victims of identity fraud each year.
“Ghosting” as this form of fraud is called can take months for financial institutions to discover and remedy if the heirs or loved ones of the deceased are not proactive.
We recommend obtaining at least 12 copies of the official death certificate. Most financial institutions require originals.
If there is a surviving spouse or other joint account holders, make sure to immediately notify relevant credit card companies, banks, stock brokers, loan/lien holders, and the mortgage companies of the death.
The executor of the estate will need to calculate the total amount of existing debt and be prepared to pay it off before distributing any assets.
Accounts need to be transferred to a living person or closed. If you close the account, ask them to list it as “Closed. Account holder is deceased.”
Contact all credit rating agencies, credit issuers, collection agencies and any other financial institutions that need to know about the death, and initiate the appropriate procedures for each one.
Pro tip: Leave nothing open in your deceased loved ones name, not even social media accounts.
If you have already become the victim of identity theft or fraud, you understand the pain and frustration of this incredibly personal crime.
If a breach does occur, get out in front of it as quickly as possible.
Alert your credit card companies, change account numbers, file a claim, and alert the authorities. Identity theft is a crime!
Here’s to taking these simple, yet essential steps to staying safe with your spending now and into the new year!
To your prosperity,
Your Hendershott Wealth Management team