Ron Marsh is one of those people. The professor of computer science in UND’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science said he’s had his identity stolen three times.
“I’m a computer scientist by training and even I’m not immune to it,” Marsh said. “If that statistic was about in-person theft, people would be paying much more attention to it.”
Identity theft is serious, but there are things that can minimize harm, Marsh said.
The most important thing that can be done to protect online accounts is to review credit card and bank statements every month.
“Be especially cautious of purchases that are only a dollar, especially if you don’t recognize them,” Marsh said.
Thieves will charge a dollar to test a card.
“If you’re not looking at your statement, your monthly balance is only going to be off by a dollar,” Marsh said. “Even I wouldn’t notice that balance being off and I check my statements.”
When his identity was stolen, Marsh checked his statement to find a charge of thousands of dollars.
“I was glad I looked at the statements when I did, because I know I didn’t make those purchases,” he said.
When shopping online never use a debit card.
Most debit cards are tied to bank accounts, which Marsh said can bring trouble if things go wrong.
“A person could potentially empty your bank account because they have access to your debit card,” Marsh said. “And it sometimes takes the bank 30 days to do the investigation and get your money back. So if you’ve had your bank account emptied that’s 30 days without money.”
While no one wants credit card information stolen, Marsh said it is much easier to deal with credit card theft than debit card theft.
In addition to checking bank and credit card statements, Marsh said to check credit scores to ensure there’s nothing fraudulent.
TransUnion, Experian and Equifax are required to let users check credit for free once a year. By using all three, credit can be checked three times in one year, Marsh said.
If identity theft does occur, file a police report. Credit card companies and banks will want that report when investigating fraudulent purchases, Marsh said.
While it is time consuming to worry about combing through various accounts, it is the most effective way to protect yourself online, Marsh said.
“A lot of times this information is collected through cyber security breaches at different online merchants,” Marsh said. “There’s nothing we can really do about that as individuals. You just have to keep checking your accounts.”
If it has a screen, it needs a pin. “You should have a code on your phone, on your computer, all your devices,” Marsh said. “The biggest one is the phone because if you drop that in public anybody could pick it up.” The Better Business Bureau of North Dakota and Minnesota recommends using a mix of upper- and lower-case letters, along with numbers and symbols. The FTC advises against sharing passwords or pins via phone, text or email. Legitimate companies will not ask for passwords over the phone.
Shred documents with a Social Security number, birth date, credit card numbers, medical insurance numbers or bank account numbers. Marsh said he shreds anything with his name, address or any account number on it.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission suggests keeping software up-to-date because outdated software is easier to break into. Most software can update automatically and the FTC recommends doing this.
Don’t assume a Wi-Fi hotspot is secure. According to the FTC, most Wi-Fi hotspots aren’t secure. If the network doesn’t require a password, it probably isn’t secure, so don’t enter passwords or account information while using that Wi-Fi.
Never click on a link in a suspicious email. “Beware of phishing emails, where scammers send you an email that looks like it is from your bank and ask you to click on a link or enter something about your bank account,” Marsh said. “Call your bank or whoever the email says its from and verify or go to a webpage that you know is legitimate.”
Don’t post on social media about going on vacation. “I see people say, ‘oh, we’re going to be gone from this day to this day,’” Marsh said. “You might as well put a ‘you’re welcome to break in’ sign on your front door.” The BBB also recommends setting social media account as private as possible.