66 ways to protect your identity and privacy


PrivacyNot again. The news is full of reports that more than 500 million online users had their privacy breached in the recent Yahoo online hack. Yahoo is not alone – LinkedIn, MySpace, Dropbox, Target, Anthem, Sony — it’s impossible to keep track, but you can see a list of the largest data breaches of all time for a trip down memory lane. And now we learn that Russian hackers are trying to compromise our voting and election systems.

What’s a person to do?

Well, if you fear your info was leaked in the recent Yahoo leak, the company has an info page of signs of a hacked Yahoo account and what to do.

But taking remedial steps after the horse gets out of the barn doesn’t help you much for protection  from the next attack. If your house was robbed, you’d take steps to beef up security, and online isn’t much different – you need to take serious preventive steps now to avoid exposure. It’s human nature to put this off – plus, it can be hard to know just what steps to take. That’s why we were happy to see that the recent Consumer Reports has made online security a focus of the new issue.

Their excellent article 66 Ways to Protect Your Privacy Right Now is a comprehensive must-read, covering online, mobile and real-world security matters. It includes concrete tips, how-tos, and videos on the following topics:

  • Screen locks
  • Snail mail privacy
  • Unbreakable passwords
  • Mobile account safety
  • Connected devices
  • Handling public WiFi
  • Everyday encryption
  • Facebook settings
  • Home WiFi settings
  • Boosting web browser privacy
  • Beating ransomware
  • How to avoid phishing schemes
  • Google settings

If you find 66 steps a little overwhelming, here’s their suggestion for a shortcut: The Consumer Reports 10-Minute Digital Privacy Tuneup

Here are some related resources that we’ve previously posted:

 

Fraud alert: Thieves are trying to steal your medical identity!


medical id theftYou’re no doubt aware of the dangers of identity theft, but have you heard of medical identity theft? It appears that thieves are not only eager to steal your personal information to make purchases, intercept your tax returns, open accounts or commit crimes, they’d also like to pose as you to get expensive medical services. It’s a serious, growing crime that can put your financial and physical health at risk. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) describes medical identity theft this way:

A thief may use your name or health insurance numbers to see a doctor, get prescription drugs, file claims with your insurance provider, or get other care. If the thief’s health information is mixed with yours, your treatment, insurance and payment records, and credit report may be affected.

Consumer Reports offers a good article on The Rise of Medical Identity Theft, noting that there were an estimated 2.3 million cases identified in 2014. They explain that it’s a crime that can go well beyond financial repercussions:

But there’s another, far more dangerous problem with medical identity theft: The thief’s own medical treatment, history, and diagnoses can get mixed up with your own electronic health records—potentially tainting and complicating your care for years to come. And that isn’t a hypothetical problem.

“About 20 percent of victims have told us that they got the wrong diagnosis or treatment, or that their care was delayed because there was confusion about what was true in their records due to the identity theft,” says Ann Patterson, a senior vice president of the Medical Identity Fraud Alliance (MIFA), a group of several dozen healthcare organizations and businesses working to reduce the crime and its negative effects.

Scary, right? Even scarier is that the thieves may be in your house right now! Consumer Reports notes that medical identity theft is sometimes called “friendly fraud” because it’s often perpetrated by family members. They cite a study by the Poneman Institute in which 47% of the respondents said the theft was perpetrated by a relative or someone else they knew, while only 10% was attributed to a data breach and 12% due to having been tricked into providing personal information.

Like identity theft, anyone can be a victim, but two groups are at particularly high risk:

  • The elderly, who may be more susceptible to scams
  • Children, whose health and financial records may not be guarded as carefully they should be

What can you do to protect yourself against this type of theft? Here’s a good place to start. Consumer Reports offers 10 Ways to Guard Against Medical Identity Theft. As with anything else, half the battle is awareness. Understanding the danger and taking basic precautions can help. Here are some other good medical identity theft resources:

Scam-apalooza! Don’t let fraud ruin your holiday


ruined-holidayThe CT commissioner of insurance warns policyholders of a recent insurance phone scam. People are getting calls that their insurance is cancelled and they need to make a credit card payment to reinstate their policy. The commissioner says: Never give out your credit card information to an unsolicited caller.

Good advice – particularly over the holiday. Scams are plentiful in the holiday season so keep your radar set on high. We’ve heard about fake shipping notifications, pyramid schemes, gift card scams, fake charities and plain old package theft. Don’t let scammers ruin your holiday – learn about the most common holiday fraud schemes.

General Alerts

Gift Card Scams

Package Theft

Delivery Scams

Charity Scams

Santa Scams

Holiday Pyramid Schemes

Holiday job Scams

General shopping & holiday safety

Identity Theft Protection: A guide to what & when to shred


Depositphotos_41034773_xs

Wondering which financial documents to keep and which to shred? The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers this handy shredding infographic along with an accompanying article A pack rat’s guide to shredding. Both offer helpful advice on what security experts say you should shred immediately (ATM receipts, credit card offers, sales receipts) to what you should keep forever (birth certificates, tax returns) and everything in between. This is only one of the many great Identity Theft resources available from the FTC.

Talk to your local insurance agent about whether your homeowners policy covers identity theft and if not, have a talk about identity theft insurance. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) offers a good primer on ID Theft Insurance.

shredding-infographic

Protect your kids from ID theft


Sleeping childYour child could have their credit report ruined and their ID stolen while they sleep and it might be years before you would be aware that anything is amiss. Underage kids are prime targets of ID theft. A story today on states with the most identity theft complaints explains how some population segments are particularly vulnerable to ID theft:

“While everyone is vulnerable to identity theft, children and elderly people are targeted more than others, although for different reasons. According to Toporoff, children are prime targets because their information is readily available as it is stored within a school system. In addition, almost no one monitors a child’s credit report. This means a child’s stolen identity can often be used for years before the misuse is even detected.

Elderly Americans are vulnerable to identity theft for a host of reasons. They are targeted because often they have more money than younger Americans. They also tend to have more contact with medical establishments, with multiple specialists, and with multiple people such as caretakers entering their homes more often. This may partly explain the nation-leading rate of identity thefts in Florida, where nearly 19% of the population was 65 and over in 2013, the highest proportion in the country.”

How could a child’s ID be compromised? Unfortunately, all too many ways: It could happen from a large data breach, like the Anthem exposure of millions of sensitive records; it could be exposed from school records that are improperly protected; it could be exposed from a computer hack or a stolen wallet; perhaps even worse, it could be stolen by an adult that you know.

How can you protect your children from identity theft? The Federal Trade Commission offers excellent advice on monitoring and protecting your children from identity theft. They offer great ways to spot warning signs that something might be amiss, ways to protect your child’s identity, and steps to take if you have problems.

Here are some prevention tips from the FTC:

  • Find a safe location for all paper and electronic records that show your child’s personal information
  • Don’t share your child’s Social Security number unless you know and trust the other party. Ask why it’s necessary and how it will be protected. Ask if you can use a different identifier, or use only the last four digits of your child’s Social Security number.
  • Shred all documents that show your child’s personal information before throwing them away.
  • Be aware of events that put information at risk. For example, there’s an adult in your household who might want to use a child’s identity to start over; you lose a wallet, purse or paperwork that has your child’s Social Security information; there’s a break-in at your home; or a school, doctor’s office or business notifies you that your child’s information was affected by a security breach.

The FTC also suggests a number of steps you should take if you’re a parent with a child who’s enrolled in school, such as finding out who has access to your child’s information, how information is used and how it’s shared.

There are also a number of identity protection and fraud monitoring services on the market – check with your local insurance agent to see if they offer any services as part of their insurance packages.