As our reliance on digital banking continues to grow, it’s essential to know what steps you can take to protect your personal and financial information. The most common tactics used by fraudsters are constantly evolving, and with the growing influence of artificial intelligence, they will only continue to change.
You should review your credit report at least once a year and make sure that all information is correct. You can access your credit report through the three reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. For more information, visit annualcreditreport.com.
If you find an error in your credit report, contact the appropriate credit reporting agency to inform them that you are disputing information on your report. Typically, the agency must investigate the dispute within 30 days of receiving it. Once the investigation is complete, the agency will provide you with a written result of their investigation and remove or correct any errors.
While you are often allowed to file your dispute either online or by mail, it may be in your best interest to dispute the error in writing with supportive documents. Then, you'll have a paper trail to rely on if the investigation does not resolve the disputed error. If you believe that the error is the result of identity theft, you can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at identitytheft.gov.
In addition to checking your credit report, you should regularly review your financial accounts for suspicious charges or activity. If you discover signs of unauthorized transactions, contact the appropriate financial institution as soon as possible. Early notification may stop the identity thief while also limiting your financial liability.
Consider a fraud alert or security freeze
If you discover that your personal and/or financial information has been exposed to identity theft, you should consider placing a fraud alert and/or security freeze on your credit report.
A fraud alert requires creditors to take extra steps to verify your identity before extending any existing credit or issuing new credit in your name. To request a fraud alert, you only have to contact one of the three major credit reporting agencies, and the information will be passed along to the other two.
A security freeze prevents new credit and accounts from being opened in your name. Once you obtain a security freeze, creditors won't be allowed to access your credit report and therefore cannot offer new credit. This helps prevent identity thieves from applying for credit or opening fraudulent accounts in your name.
Maintain strong passwords
A strong password should be at least eight characters long, using a combination of lower-case letters, upper-case letters, numbers and symbols. Avoid using personal information such as your name and address.
If you have trouble keeping track of all your unique password information for different accounts, consider using password management software. Password manager programs generate strong, unique passwords that you control through a single master password.
Two-step authentication, which involves using a text or email code along with your password, provides another layer of protection for your information.
Think twice before clicking
Beware of emails containing links or asking for personal information. Never click on a link in an email or text unless you know the sender and have a clear idea where the link will take you.
Search with purpose
Typing one word into a search engine to reach a particular website is easy, but it sometimes isn't enough to reach the site you are actually looking for. Scam websites may look nearly identical to the one you are searching for. Pay attention to the URL, which will be intentionally misspelled or shortened to trick you.
Exercise caution when shopping
When shopping online, look for the secure lock symbol in the address bar and the letters https: in the URL, as both signify a secure internet connection. Avoid using public Wi-Fi networks for shopping, as they lack secure connections.
Beware of automated calls
Criminals often use automated “robocalls” to collect consumers' personal information or gain access to their financial accounts. Newer technology displays fake numbers to make it look as though the call is from a local number. In general, don't answer calls if you don't recognize the phone number.
Beware of tax-related identity theft
Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses your Social Security number to claim a fraudulent tax refund. In this case, you may not even realize you've been the victim of identity theft until you file your tax return and discover that a return has already been filed using your Social Security number.
If you have reason to believe that you’ve been the victim of identity theft, visit IRS.gov/identitytheft or identitytheft.gov to learn what steps you should take. You can also check Busey's Money Matters blog and our Fraud Prevention FAQs for additional information on security-related topics.