Protect against identity theft

You cannot pick up a newspaper or turn on the television without learning about a data breach that’s affected millions of consumers.

This was the case throughout 2017, when the Identity Theft Resource Center tracked a record 1,579 breaches – a staggering 44 percent increase over the previous high, reported for 2016. And although some four months remain in 2018, hackers have kept this troubling pace. As of July 2, the Identity Theft Resource Center had identified 668 total breaches exposing nearly 22.5 million records.

Hackers have become more sophisticated in their approach to stealing information.

As such, there are a number of things to be aware of, and steps you can take, to reduce your personal risk. And with a portion of the summer remaining for vacations, when people tend to spend money differently than other times of the year – followed by the holiday season – timeliness is paramount.

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In today’s digital age, information such as your name, address and date of birth can easily be found. But other information, such as your Social Security number, credit card, debit and bank account numbers are harder to acquire, unless left unsecured. Knowing this, perpetrators target home computers and mobile devices used for online banking and shopping with email phishing scams designed to lure you to a link and enter your personal information or password.

Disguised to appear sent from a familiar contact or brand, phishing emails often include telltale signs that should raise concern. Among them are variations in font size, and spelling and grammatical errors. Considering the difficulty in preventing malicious-intent emails from reaching your inbox, it is important to ensure your computer is up-to-date with the latest anti-virus and anti-malware applications, and that you disregard any email that appears suspicious.

In line with ensuring the security of your personal computer and mobile devices is the practice of using a credit card for online purchases and when traveling. While credit and debit cards both offer the protection of Europay, MasterCard and Visa chip security, your credit card is not linked to your bank account. This removes the risk that a perpetrator can access your banking numbers should your credit card become compromised.

Considered the industry standard for protecting against fraudulent activity, cards equipped with chip security are more difficult to clone, house constantly changing data hard to isolate and extract and communicate with payment terminals using encrypted language to ensure it’s you who is paying. Chip protection also provides consumers the benefit of their credit card company’s ability to identify and block questionable purchases.

To stay protected, consumers must remain diligent. This means regularly refreshing passwords with a focus on degree of difficulty and using special characters, using Dual-Factor Authentication whenever possible, monitoring account activity and periodically reviewing their detailed credit report.

The cost of identity theft to a victim can be felt across both financial and credit loss, through a direct loss of money, unpaid debts in their name and an inability to take out loans.

While most transactions with your bank debit or credit card can be reversed if identified quickly enough, reporting and fixing credit-loss incidents can be more challenging than addressing a financial loss. Should you identify irregularities or unauthorized accounts on your credit report, immediately alert the Federal Trade Commission at www.IdentityTheft.gov.

Steven Parente is senior vice president and director of retail banking for Bank Rhode Island.