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HACKED!

WHAT YOU CAN DO TO PROTECT YOURSELF AND YOUR FINANCES

There’s no question more of our lives exist online – we learn about the world through social media, we shop on our favorite stores’ websites, and we manage our bank accounts from the comfort of our living rooms. So when some of the biggest of the big-box stores reported their customers’ credit card information was hacked, it caused even the most ardent consumers to pause and consider their own financial security.

Retired FBI special agent Jeff Lanza travels across the country educating the public about cybercrime and identity theft. Digest sat down to talk with Jeff about how you can stay safe in today’s electronic age.

DIGEST: YOU’VE SPENT MUCH OF YOUR CAREER INVESTIGATING IDENTITY THEFT. WHAT IS IT, AND HOW CAN WE PROTECT OUR IDENTITIES FROM BEING STOLEN?

JEFF: Identity theft is when a criminal steals someone’s personal information to commit a crime. Often that crime is credit card fraud, where a thief makes unauthorized purchases on your account without your knowledge. More and more, though, we’re finding identity thieves using stolen identities to open new lines of credit, file for tax refunds, even get medical care – all in their victims’ names.

The best way to protect yourself from identity theft is to deny thieves your personal information in the first place. Don’t carry your Social Security card on you, and shred any documents containing personal information before disposing of them. Monitoring your credit history can also alert you to a potential breach.

DIGEST: SO MANY OF OUR PURCHASES TODAY ARE MADE ELECTRONICALLY WITH A DEBIT OR CREDIT CARD. IS EITHER CARD SAFER THAN THE OTHER?

JEFF: Consumer protection laws treat credit and debit cards very differently. Under federal law, your liability for an unauthorized credit card purchase cannot exceed $50, and charges are often credited back to your account immediately. The liability limit for debit cards, however, can increase from $50 to $500 or more, depending on how quickly you notice the violation. Plus, it can take weeks for a bank to reimburse a drained account, leaving victims without access to funds for expenses in the meantime.

DIGEST: “STAYING SAFE” HAS A DIFFERENT MEANING TODAY THAN IT DID 10 YEARS AGO. HOW DO WE STAY SAFE WITH SO MUCH OF OUR LIVES ONLINE?

JEFF: The further we get from in-person, face-to-face interactions, the easier it is to be duped by a criminal posing as someone we trust. So when we’re online, it’s important to view unfamiliar email or social media posts with some skepticism. Instead of clicking on a link to a company’s site, type the URL directly into your browser’s address bar. When shopping online, look for indicators that it’s safe to enter your credit card information, like an address bar highlighted in green or an https:// prefix to the URL. Keep your operating system and Web browsers up to date. And assign different passwords for different websites so if an account at one store is hacked, the financial damage the hackers can do is limited.

But the best advice for “staying safe” is what it’s always been – pay attention to your surroundings. If your instincts tell you something may be wrong, act with an abundance of caution.

Three Tips to Help Prevent Identity Theft

1. PROTECT YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION. Don't provide information, passwords and especially your Social Security number unless absolutely necessary and only over secured networks to trusted recipients.

2. BE WARY OF UNUSUAL LINKS AND COMMUNICATIONS. Scam artists will try to trick you into downloading malware or revealing sensitive information by impersonating institutions and people you trust. If an online communication seems fishy to you, verify with the source before proceeding.

3. CHECK YOUR CREDIT REPORTS REGULARLY. Each of the three credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – is required to provide you with a free copy of your credit report annually, meaning you can review your credit history every four months for free.

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