By: W. Kirk Taylor, CFP®
In today’s digital age, protecting your financial identity is more important than ever. With the growing prevalence of online transactions and the increasing sophistication of cybercriminals who are armed with ever growing AI capabilities, the risk of identity theft looms large every day. In November, we observe National Identity Theft Protection and Awareness Month to educate our readers on the importance of safeguarding your financial identity and non-public information.
The Rising Threat of Theft
Having your identity stolen from you can have devastating consequences for individuals and their finances. Cybercriminals employ countless tactics such as phishing emails, data breaches, social engineering, and more to steal your private financial information, such as your date of birth and social security number, or your passwords to your bank accounts and credit cards . Once they obtain this data, they can use it to commit fraud, open fraudulent accounts, and steal your money! The repercussions of identity theft can be long-lasting and financially devastating if precautions aren’t taken. Awareness and active prevention are essential.
Protecting Your Financial Identity
In recognition of National Identity Theft Protection and Awareness Month, we’ve compiled some essential tips to help you safeguard your financial identity:
- Strong Passwords: A robust, unique password for each of your online accounts is the first line of defense against identity theft. Use a combination of upper and lower-case letters, numbers, and special characters. Consider using a reputable password manager to keep track of your passwords securely.
- Two-Factor Authentication (2FA): Enable 2FA whenever possible. This adds an extra layer of security by requiring a second form of verification, such as a text message or app-based authentication code .
- Use a Dedicated Password Manager Application: Utilizing a password manager will maintain security and protection over your passwords, along with keeping them organized and easily accessible. There are web browser resources available to store passwords, yet they come with limited functionality and security. As a result, it is recommended to use a third-party app that allows users to enter passwords in one place that is protected by a central password. There are additional benefits to password manager applications, such as storing important information like pins, credit card numbers, driver’s license details, and more . Researchers have found that users without password managers are three times more vulnerable to identity theft.
- Regularly Monitor Your Financial Statements: Review your bank and credit card statements regularly for any unusual or unauthorized transactions. The sooner you detect fraudulent activity, the easier it is to mitigate the damage.
- Shred Sensitive Documents: If you are a “paper person” be sure to dispose of financial statements, old credit cards, and any documents containing personal information by shredding them. Thieves can resort to “dumpster diving” to obtain your sensitive data.
- Beware of Phishing Scams: Be cautious of unsolicited emails, especially those asking for personal or financial information. Verify the legitimacy of the sender before sharing any information . Legitimate institutions will never ask for sensitive information via email.
- Protect Your Social Security Number: Your Social Security Number (SSN) is a key target for identity thieves. Only share your social security number when absolutely necessary and never carry your SSN card with you.
- Free Annual Credit Reports: Obtain free annual credit reports from the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) . Review these reports for any discrepancies or accounts you don’t recognize.
- Secure Your Wi-Fi: Ensure your home Wi-Fi network is password-protected and use a strong, unique password. Regularly update your router’s firmware to patch security vulnerabilities.
- Secure Your Devices: Keep your computer, smartphone, and other devices up to date with the latest security patches and antivirus software. Lock your devices with strong, unique passwords.
- Educate Yourself: Stay informed about the latest identity theft trends and scams. Awareness is a powerful tool in protecting your financial identity.
Our Role in Identity Theft Prevention
As a financial services company, we understand the impact that identity theft can have on your financial well-being. We are committed to assisting you in your quest to safeguard your financial identity. Here’s how we can help:
- Planning: We can work with you to create a comprehensive plan that includes provisions for identity theft protection. We can help you allocate resources for identity theft insurance, credit monitoring services, and other safeguards.
- Education and Awareness: We can inform about the latest identity theft threats and provide guidance, education and awareness on how to protect your financial identity.
- Emergency Response: In the unfortunate event that you become a victim of identity theft, we can offer guidance on the steps to take to minimize the damage and help you get back on track financially.
National Identity Theft Protection and Awareness Month serves as a reminder of the very real and present danger of identity theft in today’s digital world. We’re here to empower you with knowledge and tools that may help to protect you and your family’s financial identity. By following best practices, staying informed, and seeking guidance, you can secure your personal financial data and enjoy peace of mind in an increasingly interconnected world. Remember, protecting your financial identity is an investment in your financial well-being. ■
 Identity Theft, USA Gov, August 7, 2023 https://www.usa.gov/identity-theft
 What is two-factor authentication?, Cloudflare https://www.cloudflare.com/learning/access-management/what-is-two-factor-authentication/
 The benefits and risks of using a password manager to protect your online identity, CNBC, December 7, 2022 https://www.cnbc.com/2022/12/27/benefits-risks-of-using-a-password-manager-to-protect-online-identity.html
 Learn about your credit report and how to get a copy, USA Gov, November 1, 2023 https://www.usa.gov/credit-reports