With all the identity theft going on today, many people worry about whether they will wake up one day and realize that someone has cleared out their bank accounts. If you are not worried about your financial accounts, like checking and savings at the bank, investments and credit cards, you should be. Criminals engage in “account takeover” every day, and these accounts are some of their favorite targets. Yet we seldom think about how to protect online financial accounts.
You are not doomed to be a victim of identity theft. There are steps you can take to protect your financial accounts from getting hijacked.
With online banking, it only takes a few minutes to check your bank accounts and make sure there is no fraudulent activity. Designate one day of the week to spend five minutes glancing at your primary bill-paying and savings accounts. For example, you will check your Wells Fargo checking and savings accounts first thing every Monday morning. You can check other accounts you do not use frequently on a different schedule, like once a month. As soon as you see something questionable, contact your bank.
The best way to find out if someone has opened an account using your name and Social Security number, is to check your credit report. You can get a free copy from the three largest credit reporting bureaus once a year. Look at all the accounts in your name to see if there are any you did not open. Contact the credit reporting bureau, if you find an account you do not recognize.
If you want to monitor your credit more frequently, you can pay a monthly subscription fee to one of the bureaus. A subscription will give you 24/7 access to your credit information. You can also get alerts whenever your credit card balances go up, someone opens an account in your name and someone makes an inquiry about your credit.
If your credit card balance went up and you did not make purchases on your card, someone else might be committing credit card fraud at your expense, charging purchases to your account. If an identity thief opens an account using your name and Social Security number, you can find out which company the account is with and notify them that it is a fraudulent account.
Let’s say you get an alert that someone opened a Discover credit card in your name, and you do not have a Discover credit card. You can call Discover’s fraud hotline telephone number and notify them of the illegal account. Follow up with written notification, so you can prove when you notified the company. If you did not have ready access to your credit report, you would not know that someone had opened the account in your name.
Read Your Mail
If you get business correspondence that does not make sense, do not merely throw it away. That letter from a collection agency for a purchase you did not make might be your way of finding out that someone has committed identity theft against you. Responding immediately to the collection agency, can help you avoid severe damage to your credit score. It could take years to clean up the mess, if you ignore a situation like this.
It is also a good idea to use an online password manager. These simple programs make it easier to log in to many different accounts without having to remember, or (even worse) writing down, any passwords and login information. They store your information safely and can be both a great convenience and a source of security.
AARP. “10 Ways to Safeguard Your Bank Accounts.” (accessed July 11, 2019) https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2018/protect-checking-savings-accounts.html