5 Ways to Keep Identity Thieves Guessing

Thursday, January 20, 2022

online security

Identity theft continues to be more than just a costly headache. With your information, scammers can access your accounts, apply for credit in your name, and steal your tax refund. Let’s dig into some lesser-known, proactive steps you can take to protect yourself from becoming the target of identity fraud.

January is always a good time to review your passwords and online security measures. Last year saw a marked increase in identity theft, often through pandemic relief checks and unemployment benefits. So, it’s an especially good idea to start 2022 with a renewed security presence. Below, we list five ways you can strengthen your identity’s security.

Use fake answers for your security questions

One simple way to add a layer of protection to your accounts is to choose nonsense answers to security questions. Instead of “green Ford Explorer,” think outside the box for the security question, “What was your first car?” Something like “big avocado” is an answer that you would know but that isn’t obvious to someone else. The idea is to choose an answer that only has meaning to you and cannot be easily guessed.

Real answers to your security questions may have been published previously if you’ve participated in social media quizzes and challenges. Avoid using your real information in any situation, no matter how harmless it may seem. This includes your mother's maiden name, the street you grew up on, or other information typically found in security questions. A moment of fun could lead to many lost hours spent repairing damage to your identity.

Opt-in for multi-factor authentication

When available, enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) to your online accounts. MFA is a type of authentication that adds two or more layers of security beyond a password. If only two factors are used, it is sometimes referred to as two-factor authentication or 2FA. With MFA, a verification code is sent by text, email, or voice to a phone number listed on your profile. You must enter the provided code before completing the login process.

Adding another step to the login process decreases the chance that a hacker can gain access to your accounts. It may also prevent a bad guy from locking you out of your own account. If they gained access with your password, they could add their own email and mobile number as the verification contacts. It can be incredibly difficult to regain control of your account after it’s been hacked.

MFA should always be added to your accounts when available. Find out whether your account provider offers MFA by investigating your online options or calling the company to ask. This service is not always offered proactively.

File your taxes early

According to the IRS, "tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses your stolen personal information, including your Social Security number, to file a tax return claiming a fraudulent refund." One simple way to avoid scammers getting ahold of your tax refund is to file before they do!

Surprisingly, this type of fraud affects an estimated hundreds of thousands of Americans every year. It’s often discovered when an individual files their return and their refund is rejected because it has already been claimed. Many filers don’t begin to think about completing taxes until closer to the annual deadline, which is Monday, April 18. However, the first day to file your 2021 return is Monday, January 24. Get ready now, file early, and check it off your list while ensuring your refund isn’t claimed by someone else.

Be smart, be private on social media

Two ways people put themselves at risk on social media are by disclosing their location and engaging with strangers. Sharing your location with your friends and followers isn’t usually needed, yet location sharing is often an app’s default setting.

Some social media platforms keep location sharing on in the background, so you can always see another user’s location. This allows ill-meaning individuals to access your home and work address, your travel routines, and your favorite vacation destination.

Mobile location settings are often lifesavers when navigating a new city or avoiding traffic jams. However, allowing the social media universe to know where you are at all times can be detrimental to your security. Most people know that they shouldn’t share too much with individuals they meet online. But there are still thousands of cases a year of people losing their money or personal information to online scammers. Remember that it’s easy to lie on social media, so keep your personal information private if you make connections online.

Routinely check your "in-app" privacy settings

Occasionally, we’re reminded to review our privacy information, and our settings will remain locked down briefly after reassessing. However, sharing a public post (to qualify for a prize, for instance), can reset your privacy preferences for future posts. Creating an intentionally public post can also change privacy settings on future posts that you intend to be more personal.

On a regular basis, make it a point to check your privacy settings in the apps where you are active. Take an extra second to check each social post before publishing to ensure that it’s reaching only who you intend. Consider editing your friends list to include those in your inner circle or set your updates to only reach certain people.

Games and shopping apps are often checking your background in the same way to show you more relevant ads. Locking down what you’re sharing helps protect your information while staying connected with loved ones in the way you intend.

Keep your information safe in a digital world

Add an annual task to your calendar to check in on these security measures and get started now. Also, verify that your account passwords aren’t re-used or easy to guess (especially on banking, mortgage, and investment accounts).

Remember, if you suspect that your identity has been compromised, we’re here to help. You have access to an Identity Theft Recovery Advocate through your Smarter, Smart or Fresh Start Checking Account benefits. These professionals are trained and ready to help you reverse the damage and get back on track quickly. They know how to spot identity theft, and when necessary, will support you through the process of repairing any damages.

McCoy/NXG 1/20/2022