The 2016 presidential election has been far from boring! One of the most attention-grabbing events involved the 20,000 private emails between members of the Democratic National Committee that were exposed to the public. This massive email hack serves as a reminder that information we assume is private is not always protected.
Have You Been Affected?
As consumers head to the internet for online banking, shopping, and bill-payment, so do the hackers. In 2013, 40 million Target customers’ debit and credit card numbers were stolen and sold on the black market to be made into counterfeit cards. Four years ago, LinkedIn suffered a breach where 117 million login credentials were stolen and sold. Anthem, the major health insurer which is headquartered here in Indianapolis, suffered a major hack in 2015 where 78.8 million client names, birthdays, and social security numbers were compromised.
If you weren’t impacted by one of these events, chances are good that you know someone who was. Consider yourself very lucky, but unfortunately, by some estimates you have a one-in-three chance of being hacked in 2016!
By the Numbers
The Department of Justice defines identity theft as any type of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain. According to the 2016 Javelin Identity Fraud report, 13.1 million people fell victim to identity fraud in 2015.
The average amount sustained in an identity theft incident last year was $1,585. It is important to note that most financial institutions will cover the liability, if proper notification is filed on a timely basis.
The rise in chip card use has made it more difficult for thieves to obtain card numbers. As a consequence, this has forced thieves to change their focus to “new account” fraud, which currently makes up one-fifth of all identity theft cases. In this scenario, a new account that you are unaware of, is established with your personal information.
The Financial Impact of Fraud
On the surface, a stolen LinkedIn password may not seem threatening to your financial well-being. However, hackers have caught on to the fact that many people use variations of the same username and password for other email and bank accounts. While this is convenient, it’s not smart!
And, suddenly the stakes have gotten higher. The black market is in demand for stolen personal information. Once in the wrong hands, your information will likely be used to open a line of credit which the perpetrator has no intention of paying down, thereby wrongfully ruining your credit score. A lower credit score puts you at risk of not qualifying for a mortgage, paying a higher premium for car insurance, or even being denied a cell phone contract.
As another example, a victim of identity theft can find that someone has filed a fraudulent tax return using their stolen information. According to the IRS, it typically take 180 days to resolve this situation.
Account and tax return fraud are not the only ways complete strangers can capitalize off your unprotected data. In addition, thieves have been able to successfully redirect someone else’s social security benefits to accounts under their control.
Having your private information remain private while using computers and mobile devices is possible, thanks to a variety of safety measures. Encryption is a process that protects data by using complex algorithms. You know that a website is encrypted if the URL begins with "https," with the "s" standing for secure. This is important to note when entering private data such as email addresses, bank account information, and social security numbers.
One way to stay on top of identity theft is to keep an active tab on your credit score. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the three credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) are required to allow you one free credit report every twelve months. Be sure to check the report for credit inquiries, which are instances where your information was used to open an account. If you don’t recognize an inquiry, you can place a fraud alert on your credit report at no cost for a span of 90 days. For an added layer of security, you can opt to freeze your credit for a small fee.
Failing to engage in proper safety measures when using the Internet can ultimately cost you your identity. Hackers are eager to exploit any lack in security for their benefit and your loss. Save yourself the time, money, and stress of dealing with identity fraud by being proactive in protecting your valuable information.
This article was contributed by Kate Arndt, a CFP candidate and Financial Planning Coordinator at Bedel Financial Consulting, Inc.
Elaine E. Bedel, CFP, is CEO and president of Bedel Financial Consulting, Inc., a wealth management firm located in Indianapolis. She is a featured guest each Wednesday on the WTHR (NBC, Indianapolis) Channel 13 News at Noon, "Your Money" segment. Elaine’s book, "Advice You Never Asked For… But wished you had," is available on Amazon.com. For more information, visit www.BedelFinancial.com or email Elaine at email@example.com.