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Financial hackers affect more than just your pocketbook

Hayley Crowell

by

Director of Experts Among Us

Im also a New Orleans enthusiast, snacking advocate, Expert mess-maker and (thankfully) also silver-lining-finder. And I love a good hug.

As consumers, it is now essential that we be vigilant about our financial security and prepared to respond in the event our information is compromised.

With 237 data breaches logged during the 2nd quarter of 2014 alone and more than 175 million actual records breached during this same time span, the recent security breaches at major retailers, restaurants and financial organizations are sadly not isolated incidents. In fact, in 2012, 24 percent of all security breaches impacted retailers and restaurants, and 37 percent of data breaches affected financial organizations. As consumers, it is now essential that we be vigilant about our financial security and prepared to respond in the event our information is compromised. Jean Chatzky, financial journalist and LifeLock education partner, and Amanda Clayman, SheKnows Expert and financial therapist, have created a plan to help you understand and combat financial and identity theft.

What is financial theft?

Chatzky:

The more straightforward form of theft occurs when an unauthorized third party acquires and uses your financial information to access your personal funds.

The more complicated form of theft is what occurs when a perpetrator combines stolen financial information, with other personal, identifying data (either by hacking or by observing your activities in-person or online) and uses this aggregated information to impersonate you. Whether they apply for a job or a loan using your name, or buy a new home, this identity theft not only impacts your life today, but can also have a profound impact on your credit score and your future.

How does it feel?

Clayman:

Learning your information has been stolen can lead to "... a sense of personal vulnerability." And if it occurred in a store, it could "... feel like even more of a violation. It's almost like the thieves followed you home (which is a totally emotional, as opposed to rational, distinction)." You may also feel frustration "... with those who should be watching out for us... We count on our systems to be vigilant in protecting us."

With 92 percent of breaches in 2012 committed by an outsider, consumers may also begin to feel a sense of paranoia. "What if your local grocery store was hacked last week?... There is a feeling that we are under invisible attack and cannot relax for a moment or control our own safety."

What can I do to protect myself?

Clayman:

"Take steps to mitigate your exposure," which might not only protect you, but can also help with feelings of vulnerability.

Chatzky:
  • Only make online purchases from sites you know that are operating on a secure network (look for the https in the top of the browser).
  • Don't make purchases or share financial info over a public wifi.
  • Structure sound passwords.
  • Don't store financial info if you create an account with an online retailer.
  • Pay with credit versus debit when transacting, if you can handle paying off your monthly bill.
  • Watch your credit card statements carefully. There could be small charges incurred each month that might not be obvious, or even a recurring monthly fee that you don't notice.
  • Pull credit reports four times a year to monitor activity. There are a variety of trusted companies who provide this service (LifeLock, Experian, Equifax, TransUnion).

What do I do if my information is stolen?

Chatzky:

If you notice unusual changes related to your credit or debit cards, call your card company immediately and report the activity.

If you become aware of other activity affecting your credit score, call one of the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion) and place a fraud alert. You can also request a security freeze, which prevents the approval of any credit, loan or service in your name, without first receiving your direct consent.

Clayman:

"Process feelings before acting. When we are afraid, angry or overwhelmed the part of our brain that is tasked with rational decision-making is not engaged. Our limbic system (the part responsible for reacting to danger with a flight/fight/freeze response) is in charge. This system is fast but it doesn't always indicate the best course of action. Take a deep breath and slow down."

Photo credit: londoneye/Getty Images
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