Roanoke, VA – It’s January which can mean only one thing: gyms are currently more packed than the DMV on a Saturday. That’s right, New Year’s Resolutions are currently in full swing, but unfortunately many Americans don’t spend half as much time getting their identity protection in shape as they do their waistlines.
“Most of us focus on losing a few pounds as our New Year’s resolution, but often fail to protect against losing something else: our financial and personal information,” says Julie Wheeler, President and CEO of BBB Serving Western VA. “Protecting your identity will not only protect your pocketbook, but your peace of mind.”
Here are several BBB resolutions that can keep your identity protected and in great shape in the coming year:
Always check a business out with BBB before you buy. Nearly 400,000 businesses meet BBB standards and are qualified to use an Accredited Business seal on their websites and at business locations. Visit bbb.org to find BBB Business Reviews for nearly 4 million businesses across North America.
Regularly check your statements. 2014 was the year of the data breach as an estimated 43% of companies experienced some kind of theft. Between Target, Home Depot, Michaels, and P.F. Changs, over 100 million credit card numbers were stolen. Regularly check your account statements for unauthorized transactions. The faster you find them, the better your odds of getting your money back and stopping future thefts.
Check your credit report. You are entitled to one free credit report from the three major credit bureaus once a year via the FTC. Go to www.annualcreditreport.com to make sure all your information is current and correct. Ensure that no one has opened accounts in your name using stolen information.
Limit what you share on social media. Scammers use social media sites to gather information on potential victims. Avoid sharing too much personal information and check your privacy settings. Additionally, never announce on a social media site that you are going out of town or won’t be home for specific period of time. This is like posting a sign in the front lawn announcing no one is at home.
Keep your computer and phone safe. Install anti-virus software on your computer and phone and check regularly for software and operating system updates and patches. Don’t open attachments or click on links in emails unless you can confirm the email came from someone you trust. Be cautious using unsecured public WiFi hotspots.
Never wire money to someone you don’t know. Many scams require that the victim wire money back to the scammers. Scammers know that tracking money sent via MoneyGram, Western Union or Green Dot MoneyPak is extremely difficult. Once you’ve wired the money, it’s nearly impossible to get it back.
Shred sensitive documents. Shred paper documents that include sensitive financial data and dispose of computers, cell phones and digital data safely. Your BBB offers tips and checklists on what to shred, and will be hosting its next free Shred Day in April to help you stay safe.
Be skeptical of “job offers” that promise easy money. With high unemployment and long job searches common, scammers are targeting desperate job seekers. Beware of any job offer, work-at-home scheme or business opportunity that promises big money for little work and no experience.
Always read the fine print—especially with “free” trial offers. Thousands of consumers complained to BBB this year after signing up for a “free” trial offer online that resulted in repeated charges to their credit or debit cards, sometimes amounting to hundreds of dollars every month. Read the terms and conditions of any “free” trial offer before handing over credit or debit card numbers.
Fight fake check fraud. Thanks to advances in printing technology, scammers have the ability to create professional-looking phony checks. Be extremely wary of checks that come with claims that you’ve won a lottery, are eligible for a government grant or have landed a job as a secret shopper. These are almost always scams. You never pay to win!
Get everything in writing. Don’t just take a company’s word for it. Get every verbal agreement in writing to limit miscommunication and misunderstandings between what you expect and what the business delivers
The BBB is a nonprofit, business-supported organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. The BBB provides objective advice, free BBB Business Reviews on more than 4 million companies, 11,000 charity reviews, dispute resolution service, alerts and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. Please visit www.bbb.org for more information.
If you need more information, contact the BBB at (540) 342-3455 or (800) 533-5501. You can also visit www.bbb.org. Follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/BBBWesternVA and on Facebook at facebook.com/BBBWesternVA.