Sharon Koehler

Artistic Stone Design

Nowadays, I think we all realize that our identities are not safe. Even if we do nothing online, other companies do. Just take a look at the recent history of huge corporate data breaches.

2013: Target – 41 million customer files compromised

2014: Home Depot – 50 million customer files compromised

2015: Anthem – 78 million customer files compromised

2016: LinkedIn – 167 million accounts compromised

And now, just this September, Equifax announced it had been breached. The number of files compromised totals almost half the population of the United States (their words, not mine). So basically, if you are an adult with a credit history who has health insurance, an online existence and who shops at Target or Home Depot, you are so screwed. 

Please don’t be so naive as to think that these are the only large breaches. Verizon, Wendy’s Co., the DNC, Homeland Security and the FBI have been compromised as well. More and more companies are being hit every year. There were 1,093 breaches reported in 2016. That is a 40 percent increase over 2015. To be truthful, 2017 isn’t looking any better.

The information stolen during these breaches has resulted in an upswing of tax return thefts, bank account raids, fraudulent credit accounts and identity thefts. I personally have had my debit card and bank accounts compromised twice in the last year and a half. 

So if you do business with a company that has been breached, what can you do to protect yourself? First, go directly to the company’s website. The majority of companies breached will offer free credit monitoring for a year. Anthem did that. I signed up for monitoring with them, and I will do it for Equifax, as well. The way things are going, no one may ever have to pay for credit monitoring again. 

Check your credit report, not just from Equifax but from Experian and Transunion also. All of these credit-reporting companies offer one free report per year, or you can go to annualcreditreport.com.  If you see something fishy, report it. It could be a sign of identity theft. Watch your credit card statements carefully. Sometimes thieves will make small purchases like gas or fast food to see if you are paying attention. When nothing happens, they go for gold with your card and credit. Look at your bank accounts frequently. As I said, I have been compromised twice in less than two years, so I look at my accounts every day. It only takes a couple of minutes, and the peace of mind is priceless. 

Another thing you can do is to put a freeze on your credit files. A freeze won’t prevent your existing accounts from being fraudulently used, but it will make it much more difficult for someone to create new accounts using your identity.

Please note: if you put a freeze on your account, you then cannot sign up for credit monitoring.

You can also place a fraud alert on your files. This lets creditors know that you have been the victim of identity theft and that they need to verify that the person seeking to open new accounts is really you. 

File your taxes as soon as you can, especially if you are due a refund. The earlier you file the less chance you have of a scammer using your information to file a tax return in your name and get your refund. If the IRS contacts you, answer all their correspondence as soon as you can. The IRS will contact you by mail. Be wary of anyone that calls you on the phone claiming to be IRS. If you get a phone call, always ask for their name and IRS badge number. If they baulk, ask why or refuse, that’s a red flag. If they demand that you make a payment over the phone or face jail time – that’s also a red flag.

You can also subscribe to an identity theft monitoring company such as Identity Guard, Lifelock or Identity Force. There are many others. These are subscription services that charge a monthly fee to watch over your identity. Before signing up, do your research. All these companies offer similar but different services. Choose the one that’s right for you.

It’s Not Just Personal Data Anymore

Identity theft is not just personal. Business identity theft is skyrocketing. A criminal will “hijack” (for lack of a better term) a business’s identity and open new accounts or lines of credit at banks, suppliers or retailers thus driving your company’s good name, reputation and credit into the ground, making it almost impossible for you to do business.

The advice is basically the same for business identity theft as for personal identity theft. Watch your bank accounts, supplier statements and credit card accounts. Just recently, we noticed some unauthorized activity on one of our accounts. It’s maddening to shut everything down and get new cards and accounts, but do it. Check your company’s credit report. Report anything unusual or fraudulent. Keep sensitive business information in a secure place and be aware of your online presence. Be wary of sending sensitive business information via email. Emails are very hackable. Be vigilant and be proactive. Don’t be the victim.

Please send your thoughts on this article to Sharon Koehler at .