I think some of my personal financial information has been compromised ... what should I do?
Identity theft and related fraud can happen to the best of us. Sometimes, we let our guard down and scam attempts that usually would be recognized are not. It's why fraudsters like Mondays, Fridays, and the days around holidays when we are the most likely to be caught off-guard. Other times, personal information can get into the wrong hands despite our best efforts, such as in the case of a data breach on a company that stores consumer information. So, what should you do if you believe your information has been compromised?
When dealing with financial fraud, time is of the essence. It doesn't take long for someone with access to your bank account to initiate a balance transfer. And in today's world, getting credit approval can be done in a matter of days, or even hours.
First, it's important to consider the different avenues in which your compromised information can be used against you and the risk associated with each one. For example, a lost debit card could result in purchases being made without your knowledge, but this can be combated by freezing or shutting down a card and replacing it. A compromised social security number, on the other hand, may require a much longer recovery process.
Let's take a look at some of the different types of information that can be compromised, and how to prevent financial loss.
Debit & Credit Cards
If a debit card is lost or the number may have been stolen, it is best practice to freeze the card and replace it. "Freezing" a card will prevent any purchases from being accepted, both online and in-person. This can typically be done by calling your bank or using a card management system, such as Westfield Bank Debit Card Manager. This service, found within the Westfield Bank mobile app, allows you to freeze and unfreeze your WB Debit Card with the tap of a button. You can also report a lost/stolen card and dispute a charge, all within the app.
In most cases, it makes sense to replace your debit card to prevent anyone else with your card information from making purchases. Your bank can provide a new card with a different number.
Similarly, credit card accounts can be frozen by contacting your card issuer, or in most cases, through an app or online. New cards can also be obtained in the event one is stolen or lost.
Keep an eye on card statements for any suspicious purchases. While purchases can be disputed, it is best to catch the fraud early before the charges start piling up. Normally, you have 60 days to dispute a charge from the date it appeared on your statement. This limit was established by the Fair Credit Billing Act.
A compromised username and password can allow scammers access to your bank account. If you believe your account information has been stolen, change your password immediately and call your bank. Sometimes, a password change may be enough to fend off potential intruders to your account. In some cases, however, it may be necessary to close your bank account and create a new one. Talk with your bank to determine the right course of action.
Social Security Number
A compromised social security number can allow scammers to take a variety of actions under your name, especially when it is coupled with other breached personal information. Since a SSN can't just be changed, your response to a potential branch is critical to mitigating financial loss.
If you believe your social security number may have been compromised, but have not seen any evidence of fraud, it still may be a good idea to place a fraud alert. This can be done by contacting the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). A fraud alert notifies creditors that you may be a victim of fraud, and may require them to take extra steps to open new accounts under your name. Initial fraud alerts last one year, and they can be extended if necessary. Placing a fraud alert allows you to request an additional copy of your credit score from the three bureaus.
A credit lock and credit freeze block certain third parties from accessing your credit report and must be removed if you apply for credit. This may be a good course of action when identity theft is noticed, as it will reduce the chance of scammers successfully applying for additional credit under your name. When fraud is detected, filing a police report will document the issue and may be needed for certain actions such as extending a fraud alert or filing a claim with the bank.
Whether you have become a victim of fraud or suspect personal information has been compromised, a great first step is to visit IdentityTheft.gov, where you'll answer questions about the fraud and receive advice on how to respond.
Use AnnualCreditReport.com to request a free credit report from each of the three bureaus. This can be done once a year and does not require any indication of fraud on your account.
Keep an eye on accounts and statements. Suspicious transactions can be a sign that you're a victim of fraud.
Consider signing up for Identity Theft Protection. There are many ID Theft services available that can monitor for fraud and work with the credit bureaus to restore your identity. Westfield Bank offers two levels of fraud protection through Deluxe Provent®, a leading provider of fraud protection services.
Be extremely careful when allowing remote access to your personal devices. Scammers may impersonate employees from financial institutions or other companies and request remote access for various illegitimate reasons. Once they assume control, they can install programs that capture passwords or even coerce an individual into their online banking account, allowing the scammer easy access to steal funds. Never let someone remotely control your device unless you are certain of their identity and motives.