Q: From retail and restaurant data breaches to hackers infiltrating systems to phishing emails and fraudulent links, is there any way to be sure my information is safe online?
A: The short answer is no. There is no way to completely stop hackers and scammers from getting your information, just short of not using the Internet at all. It is a risk we take to be able to have the convenience of communicating, learning, gaining information that comes with the territory.
In the last few weeks, there have been breaches from well-known retail and restaurant establishments such as PF Chang's, and urgent pleas to change all your passwords yet again because Russian hackers allegedly stole thousands upon thousands of user names and passwords.
In our way of life today, we cannot imagine not using the Internet. As consumers we consent to shop on various websites and read the latest news headlines from our computers and social media. And although a good amount of pressure is placed on individual merchants and websites regarding data security, there is still not much that you as a consumer can do to prevent those data breaches from occurring. However, you can take steps to prevent your identity from being compromised.
BBB urges you to make identity theft protection a routine priority. To be proactive and vigilant to minimize the risk of identity theft for every member of your family be sure to:
• Use strong passwords and change them frequently. Do not use words that can be found in a dictionary. One tip is to create a phrase such as "tell me a story about mother" and take the first letters of each word, and then combine them with numbers and symbols to make a stronger password. An example of this case would be "T*m3S_M!". Be sure to also change your passwords frequently as hackers are constantly updating tactics to get to your information, and do not use the same password for every online account or website. Use two-step authentication where it is offered. With two-step authentication not only do you need a password, but also another device such as your cell phone in order to access your account. Once you put in the password for your account, the account will send a code to your phone, and ask for you to enter it. If you do not have the phone with the code, you will not be able to access your account.
• Monitor your banking and credit card accounts frequently, if not daily. By monitoring your accounts you can catch and report an issue sooner, which may help reduce the time of trying to get your information corrected. The longer you wait to report an issue, the more complicated it may be to rectify your account and even your identity. A good idea may be to set up automatic activity alerts on banking and credit card accounts so that you are notified every time a transaction is made.
• Check your credit report at least yearly. By law you are allowed to see your credit report from each one of the major credit bureaus once a year for free. These reports are from TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax, and these free reports can only be ordered through annualcreditreport.com. What some consumers chose to do is view one report each quarter in order to have a view of their credit over the course of the year. You may also set up alerts on your credit reports with the three credit reporting agencies.
• Monitor your children's credit reports for unauthorized activity. Many identity thieves steal children's identities for the fact that they have a clean slate to work with, and the child will probably not discover the error until he or she is older and tries to establish their own credit history, only to be denied because someone has already racked up thousands of dollars in their name.
• Be mindful of what you do online. Be careful about the types of information that you disclose. You can inadvertently tell to a thief that you will be out of town for two weeks which they in turn have a green light to know when to steal from your home. Scammers may also use the information you post online to create more intimate emails that can be used to phish for more information. Be sure to discuss identity theft and online security with every member of your family who uses the Internet, from the youngest to the oldest.
Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau of Chattanooga.