Keeping Watch Over Your Identity During the Pandemic
, by Tom Quinn
Life-changing events such as the coronavirus usually bring out the best in most people who adhere to new policies and rules as well as try to help others in need as best they can. Unfortunately, it also drives deceptive and illegal actions from others who prey on unsuspecting individuals.
This includes fraudulent activities designed to steal consumers' personal identity information. Now is not the time to let your guard down and mistakenly disclose sensitive data about your identity to these thieves.
The fraudsters are well aware that many Americans are experiencing the stress of financial hardship in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, including reduction of income that can impact their ability to pay bills on time. These individuals are concerned and may be more vulnerable.
Here are some "best practices" you can follow to reduce the likelihood of becoming a fraud victim:
Be wary of potential scams where fraudsters, acting as a reputable lender, contact you regarding your financial situation. Never share confidential information such as your name, password, SSN, PIN or other account information in this case. Hang up and contact the lender yourself to ensure you are interacting directly with your lender.
As more people are working remotely, it may increase the risk of exposure to the security of your online accounts. As such, it is a good idea to update and strengthen online passwords more frequently.
Monitor your accounts (checking, savings, credit cards, etc.) more often to check for invalid transactions. Interact with your lender immediately if you see something suspicious.
Monitor your credit reports to check for a new activity that you did not enact (such as a recent inquiry, the opening of a new account or change of address). Take immediate action to dispute inaccurate information with the credit reporting agency. It may also be prudent to place a fraud alert or security freeze on your credit reports as well.
A fraud alert is a "red flag" notice on your credit report alerting lenders that you may have been a victim of fraud and that they should confirm your identity before moving forward with an application. They are free and last from 90 days to 7 years, depending on the type of alert you add.
A security freeze places a lock on your credit report requiring a PIN or password before a business (such as a lender) can pull your credit report. It's free and doesn't have an expiration date. You'll also have to provide proof of your identity and request a security freeze with each credit bureau separately.
While you may be savvier to these potential fraud activities, other people in your network (relatives, friends, colleagues) may not. Older people are especially suspectable to being taken advantage of when it comes to their financial profile. It may be a good idea to proactively broach the topic with them to reduce the likelihood of their becoming a victim.