Could the holidays make us more vulnerable to identity theft? According to experts, it can. And while fraud is a year-round problem, the holidays offer an especially opportune time for thieves. Think about it: purchasing multiple gifts — whether it’s online or in the store — increases exposure to our financial information, and sometimes that can end up in the wrong hands.

According to a recent report by Javelin Strategy & Research, 15.4 million people were victims of fraud in 2016. That’s scary.

We want you to be financially safe this holiday, so here are some steps you can take to ensure fraud doesn’t happen to you:

1. Check your accounts regularly for unusual activity. Many banks, including FirstBank, allow you to sign up for security alerts that will notify you when your personal information is changed or when suspicious activity is detected. In many circumstances, you can also personalize these alerts for specific activity  — such as deposits or withdrawals over a certain amount, or when  your account dips below a certain threshold. We recommend that you enroll for security alerts with all your financial institutions.

2. Change your passwords often. In addition to changing your passwords regularly, use different usernames and password combinations for each online account. Passwords are the first line of defense to prevent unauthorized access. The strength of your password is based on its complexity, length, and uniqueness. If additional authentication methods are offered, such as image verification, security questions, or access confirmation on a separate device, use them and ensure you complete them for all accounts.

3. Beware of phishing scams. If you are contacted by someone – completely unsolicited – seeking personal information, chances are this is a phishing scam. No credible company or government agency will contact you asking for your personal information via e-mail or over the phone. With phishing scams, fraudsters usually pose as company representatives, use authentic-looking websites or emails with malicious links in an attempt to gather your personal information. Do not provide any sensitive information and avoid clicking on links from unfamiliar or suspicious sources.  

4. Be a little less “social” on social channels. Identity thieves also use social channels, like Facebook, to find out more personal information about you such as family names, where you went to school, your birth-date, and more. Check your privacy settings and avoid listing sensitive information.

Be sure to report anything unusual. If you suspect fraudulent activity on any of your accounts, contact your financial institution immediately. You should also contact any of your other banks or credit card companies as soon as possible.

Victim of Identity Theft? Consider The Following Steps:

Obtain and review a copy of your credit report. You can submit a single request for all three credit reporting agencies at AnnualCreditReport.com.

Consider placing a credit bureau fraud alert or security freeze on your credit. A fraud alert is a notice placed on your credit report, warning prospective lenders that you are a victim of identity theft. If an alert is active, creditors should take extra steps to verify your identity before granting credit to the person claiming to be you. A security freeze, on the other hand, is a good option if you don’t anticipate needing a new credit card, loan or line of credit in the near future. But it does have a fee associated and will require extra steps if you need access to credit.

To place a security freeze or issue an alert, you will need to contact each credit bureau independently:

Equifax: (800) 685-1111 or click here.

Experian: (888) 397-3742 or click here.

TransUnion: (888) 909-8872 or click here.

Explore a private credit monitoring or identity protection service. There are several independent companies that offer free credit monitoring services. It’s important to note that these free services may not monitor all three credit reporting bureaus. There are, however, paid monitoring services available that monitor activity of all three bureaus, and charge anywhere between $15-$30 a month. Do your research and find out what works best for you.

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