Perhaps you’ve been bombarded with e-mail messages from supposedly legitimate sources such as banks, eBay, Pay Pal and even the National Credit Union Association. The gist of these messages is that you need to update your accounts by providing certain information. The critical information requested includes your Social Security number and account numbers. I must get at least three or four e-mails each day just from Bank of the West.
The messages look legitimate, but they are not. They say things like, "We suggest you update your information to maintain your account." Another ruse is the message that says unusual account activity leads them to believe there is fraud related to your account, and asks you to return information about your account.
Do not assume that this will never happen to you. More than nine million people have dealt with identity fraud problems. In worst-case situations, victims spent more than 600 hours and $1,400 to clear their credit records. Most identity fraud still occurs away from the computer, but recent statistics from the Federal Trade Commission indicate that 53 percent of all consumer-fraud complaints were Internet related.
So what can you do?
– Ignore all emails that request personal information from you. Known as "phishing," these e-mails appear to be from a trusted source, but legitimate companies will not ask for this information. Never click on an attached file or a link in the e-mail, and never respond. Delete or send the e-mail to your blocked senders list.
– Install firewall and antivirus security programs and keep them updated.
– Establish a separate folder in your e-mail system for legitimate e-mail, and do not open e-mail from unknown sources.
– Request a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies, but stagger your request for one report every four months. You will be able to catch fraudulent accounts that are opened in your name as well as determine if inaccurate information exists about your credit history. Visit the Web at www.annualcreditreport.com for details.
– Check your bank account and credit card accounts online at least once per week. Don’t wait until you receive your monthly statements.
– A new Colorado law allows consumers to freeze their credit files to prevent unauthorized people from establishing credit. Of course, this means you’ll have to unfreeze your credit if you plan to establish a new credit account for a mortgage, credit card, auto loan or other purpose.
– You may want to establish a separate online account for your kids. The Wall Street Journal indicates that a number of the music and video file-sharing programs that kids are likely to use are vulnerable to ad ware and spyware programs that may infest your computer.
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Judy McKenna, Ph.D., CFP, Family Economics Specialist, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, email@example.com