Identify theft is an ever-present danger in today's digital world. Shoppers constantly send personal financial information like credit-card numbers and bank-account numbers over the Web, which increases the possibility of data theft and unauthorized use of financial accounts. Taking steps to protect yourself and loved ones from identify theft can reduce the chances of getting an unwelcome surprise on your next bank statement.
Address Security Threats Immediately
Swift and decisive action in the face of security threats is necessary to reduce the chances of unauthorized bank transactions. If you lose a credit card, debit card or checkbook, call your bank immediately and report the card or checkbook as stolen. Banks can put a hold on your accounts and change account information to prevent unauthorized use. If you notice an unauthorized transaction on a bank statement, contact your bank immediately and dispute the charge. Your bank's customer-service representatives can assist you with getting money back for fraudulent charges, changing your account information and sending you new cards and checks.
Set Up Strong Passwords
Online shopping and banking involves creating passwords that you use to access your accounts. If you make a password that is too short or consists of common words, identity thieves may be able to guess your passwords and gain access to your accounts. When you make passwords, use a combination of letters and numbers and use different passwords for different websites. Avoid using the names of loved ones, friends or birth dates in passwords. Longer passwords are more secure than short ones, so aim to use as many characters in your password as a bank or e-commerce site allows.
Shred Old Financial Documents
Identify thieves are not always sophisticated Internet hackers. According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, dumpster diving is a common way that thieves gain access to personal information. If you throw out old statements, cards and bills, someone could easily rummage through your trash and recover sensitive financial information. Use a paper shredder to destroy financial documents and old credit cards before you throw them away.
Ignore People You Don't Know
If you use an email account long enough, you'll probably be contacted by someone you don't know who wants to scam you out of money. Email and instant-messaging scams aimed at tricking you into divulging financial information are known as "phishing attacks." The best way to avoid phishing is to simply ignore emails and other messages from anyone that you don't know. If you never open a malicious email, you won't divulge your financial information no matter how persuasive the scam it contains may be.
Even if you follow best practices for avoiding unauthorized bank transactions, it is impossible to be 100 percent protected against them. The faster you can respond to unauthorized transactions, the more likelyyou to are to get them resolved without losing money. Call your bank to see if you can set up automatic email or text notifications that alert you when transactions occur. Automatic notifications can allow you to quickly identify and respond to unauthorized use of your accounts.
- Federal Trade Commission: About Identify Theft
- Federal Trade Commission: Deter, Detect, Defend: Avoid IDTheft
- The New York Times: Steps to Prevent Identity Theft, and What to Do if It Happens
- Wells Fargo: Bank Account, Credit Card and Debit Card Security Tips
- The New York Times: Credit and Debit Cards: What You Need to Know
Gregory Hamel has been a writer since September 2008 and has also authored three novels. He has a Bachelor of Arts in economics from St. Olaf College. Hamel maintains a blog focused on massive open online courses and computer programming.