You may have heard about it in the news: reports that Russian hackers have stolen more than a billion unique username and password combinations, and more than 500 million email addresses, grabbed from thousands of websites. What should you do about it? We asked our resident expert, Maneesha Mithal, director of our Division of Privacy and Identity Protection.
Q. How do you know if your information was part of this hack?
A. You really don’t, so don’t take any chances. Change the passwords you use for sensitive sites like your bank and email account — really any site that has important financial or health information. Make sure each password is different so someone who knows one of your passwords won’t suddenly have access to all your important accounts. We have some tips for creating strong passwords — strong, as in hard to guess.
Some online services also offer “two-factor authentication.” To get into your account, you need a password plus something else, like a code sent to your smartphone, to prove it’s you. We recommend that people use this service when it’s available.
If you think your email account might already have been affected by a hack, here’s what you can do.
Q. Is creating new passwords enough?
A. Once you have strong passwords, you need to keep them safe. Think twice when you’re asked to enter usernames and passwords, and never provide them in response to an email. For example, if you get an email or text that seems to be from your bank, visit the bank website directly rather than clicking on any links — which could contain malware — or calling any numbers in the message. Scammers impersonate well-known businesses or the government to trick you into handing over your information.
Q. Is there anything else you can do?
A. It’s unlikely this will be the last time you’re affected by a hack or data breach. One way to increase the chance you’ll catch someone trying to misuse your information is to review your credit card and bank account statements regularly. If you see charges that you don’t recognize, contact your bank or credit card provider right away and speak to the fraud department.
You also can check your credit reports for free every few months at AnnualCreditReport.com or call 1-877-322-8228. Your credit report includes information about your credit card accounts and other bills you pay, so it’s a good way to find out if someone has opened credit in your name. You’re entitled to a free report every 12 months from each of the three credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. If it turns out you are a victim of identity theft, you can find the steps you should take to deal with it at ftc.gov/idtheft.
Last but not least, send this post to your family and friends to make sure they know what to do, too.
Q. How can someone make sure this doesn’t happen to them again?
A. Unfortunately, you can’t. But by taking these steps, you can lessen the odds scammers will get a hold of your information, and also minimize the consequences if they do.
Posts Tagged ‘Identity theft’
NCPW.gov offers consumers a wealth of tips and information from federal and state government and non-profit partner organizations. You can download and print the materials and share them with friends and neighbors, or order materials from select partners if you’re planning a larger event such as a conference or workshop.
By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director, Northeast Contact
A consumer from Penobscot County reached out to us recently, saying she was afraid she might have let herself become a victim of identity theft.
Last year, the woman cashed in an annuity. Knowing she would have to report the transaction on this year’s income tax filing, she tried to email the pertinent information to her accountant. However, by missing one keystroke, she sent the message somewhere other than to the accountant. She worried about who might have received her personal and financial information and how it might be used.
A check with Maine’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection reaffirmed our initial reaction: get a credit report from one of the three major reporting agencies, and do it FAST (at www.annualcreditreport.com — this is the truly free one). You’re entitled to one free report from each agency every year, and rotating your requests every four months keeps you abreast of your credit history and any errors or misdeeds that might affect that history.
The state credit protection folks also strongly encourage visiting the Federal Trade Commission’s website ( http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0014-identity-theft). Info there can help repair your damaged credit. But guess what: It’s not just the big three reporting agencies that keep track of your credit history.
There are at least several dozen companies that keep track of other things. Some collect information about medical conditions and data that consumers provide on insurance applications. Others track rental performance, including lease violations, damages, skips and unauthorized pets. Still others compile information on check writing, employment histories, criminal backgrounds and other personal information. A firm called The Work Number provides employment and income verification, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which says the company compiles data from large private sector payroll processors.
The CFPB is just beginning to get a handle on such operations, which comprise part of what’s known as alternative credit. For consumers without a traditional credit history, alternative credit can be a way to establish a good credit history, for example, by repeatedly paying multiple utility bills on time.
For people concerned about their info in a growing number of trackers’ hands, the CFPB offers some reassurance. The bureau requires companies that collect information about you to make that information available to you. Some offer a free report every year; others will give you a free report only if the information in the report has had some adverse effect on you. If you have to pay for a report, it can’t cost more than $11.50.
The CFPB says you may want to check with one or more of these specialty bureaus:
- If you think your identity has been stolen or someone has fraudulently cashed a check using your bank account.
- Before you apply for insurance.
- Before you apply for a lease.
- If, when applying for a job, your potential employer asks for your written okay to get a report.
For more information, visit www.consumerfinance.gov and search “you have a right to see specialty consumer reports, too.”
Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.