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Take These 6 Steps to Protect Your Privacy
There has been much media attention surrounding the latest data breaches from Target, Neiman Marcus, and Michaels. Customers of these stores have had their private information stolen. It can be overwhelming for you (and your clients) to figure out what to do to protect yourself. While you don’t have any control over the breach, following are some steps you can and should take to protect yourself from being a victim of identity theft.

This information is important even if you weren't a victim of any of the recent breaches. Privacy and security professionals say on a regular basis, data breaches aren't a question of "if," they are a question of "when." It is best to be prepared and proactive. 

Step 1: Review your accounts.
As a result of the Target data breach, many banks and credit card companies took proactive action to cancel and reissue cards. Go online and check the accounts you use to make purchases at any retailer on a regular basis. Don’t wait for the monthly statement. If there is any charge — including a very small charge — that you did not make or authorize, call immediately.

Step 2: Credit cards are better than debit cards. Always.
If you used a debit card at the breached retailer, call your financial institution and request that they issue you a new card (if they haven't already). And in the meantime, monitor your account closely and report any loss as soon as you notice it.

Step 3: Take advantage of free credit monitoring services, BUT realize their limitations.
In the cases of Target and Neiman Marcus, they are each offering a single-bureau monitoring service (there are three credit bureaus). This can be helpful if someone gains access to your Social Security number and tries to open a new account in your name, but it does not protect you against other forms of fraud.

Sign up for the service Target is offering: Target's Free Credit Monitoring. And check out Neiman Marcus' service: Full-Service Identity Theft Protection.

Step 4: Keep a lookout for scams.
If you follow these general rules, you will greatly reduce your chances of falling victim to common scams.
  • Never give sensitive information out to anyone who calls you. It is unlikely that any company that has had a data breach is going to call everyone whose records were breached — and don’t trust your caller ID. This also applies to any law enforcement or government agency, bank, or other entity that may have a reason to need sensitive information. Verify before you ever provide information over the phone.

  • Keep an eye out for fraudulent emails. If the email seems suspicious, delete it. I received an email last week from British Airways confirming my ticket. I didn’t buy a ticket — it was an obvious phishing attempt. Don’t click on links in the email unless you know exactly where that link will take you. Don't open attachments unless you BOTH trust the sender and are expecting an attachment from them. Don’t respond to an email asking for any sensitive information even if it looks official.
Step 5: Keep up with your credit reports.
It doesn't matter if you've been the victim of a data breach; you are entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three credit bureaus. We recommend spacing them out and ordering one report every four months. Make sure to only do this through the official site, Annual Credit Don’t fall for websites with similar names that want to charge you for ongoing credit monitoring services.

Step 6: Talk with your family.
Make sure everyone in your family is familiar with these steps. Children can be just as much a target for spammers as adults.

Data breaches have become a reality in our online world. You can fight back by being smart and vigilant. Taking these steps will not guarantee you won’t have your identity stolen but it sure will help add a layer of protection.

If you have your identity stolen you may have legal costs to get this cleared up.   You may purchase identity theft coverage for as little as 30/year.  Please contact us if you have questions about this coverage.

Steve Anderson, Editor
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