State Attorney General Bob Ferguson was in West Seattle today as part of an event presented at South Seattle College (WSB sponsor) by a coalition led by the AARP. It was the first in a new series, “Taking Charge of Your Digital Identity,” with other events to be held around the state. AARP spokesperson Jason Erskine says consumer-fraud experts advise taking these “three key steps” to better protect your personal information:
1) Take Charge of Your Credit File
Getting a credit freeze is one of the three primary recommendations of security officials to help protect your identity. With a credit freeze in place, a criminal is unable to access your credit file or open new credit accounts. According to AARP’s report however, fewer than one-in-six Washington adults (14%) report having ever ordered a security freeze on their credit.
“Along with checking their credit reports regularly and reviewing bills promptly, many consumers find that freezing their credit is a simple thing they can do to protect themselves from crooks looking to set up phony credit accounts,” says Federal Trade Commission Regional Director Chuck Harwood. “A new Washington state law will soon let all consumers freeze their credit and lift the freeze at no cost.” AARP and the State Attorney General’s Office lobbied for the successful passage of the “Free Credit Freeze for All” law this year, offering free credit freezes and thaws for Washington consumers beginning in June of 2018. Prior to the laws’ passage, consumers had to pay around $10 to each of three credit reporting agencies to freeze their credit files, and another $10 per bureau to thaw their files.
2) Check Your Online Accounts
With the ever increasing number of data breaches, experts say almost all of us have had our personal information exposed to potential identity thieves. So it’s vital that consumers have online access to all of their important bank accounts, credit cards and retirement accounts and to check them frequently. According to AARP’s report however, only four-in-ten (38%) of Washington adults have set-up online accounts for all of their bank accounts, while one-in-five (21%) admit they have not set up online access to any of their bank accounts. Similarly, only half (50%) of Washington adults have set-up online access to all of their credit cards, while more than one-quarter (27%) haven’t set up access to any of their credit cards.
To make matters worse, some consumers who say they are staying offline are doing so for all the wrong reasons. Nearly half of respondents who have not set up online access to some or any of their bank or credit card accounts (45%) say they haven’t because they are afraid their personal information will get stolen; about four-in-ten (41%) say they feel safer without an online account; and over one-third (36%) say they don’t trust the internet. “It’s ironic and unfortunate that fear and mistrust of the internet is actually putting people in greater danger that their personal information will be stolen and used by ID thieves,” says AARP State Director Doug Shadel. “Crooks have told us that people without online accounts are the perfect targets. It allows the criminals to set up online access themselves, and to even set passwords and identifying information locking people out of their own accounts.”
3) Strengthen Your Passwords and Privacy Settings
The difference between secure computing and falling victim to online fraud or identity theft often comes down to a dozen or so keystrokes – your password. However, nearly half (45%) of Washington adults report using the same password for more than one online account. Younger adults are more likely to report doing this compared to older adults (18-49: 49%; 50-64: 46%; 65 and older: 33%). Using the same password across multiple accounts is a very risky practice. If hackers are able to break just one of your codes, they can now access each of your accounts . “Our members know we are very vigilant about protecting their data and often ask us what else they can do. We tell them to treat their passwords like toothbrushes,” says Kyle Welsh, BECU’s Chief Information Security Officer. “Change them frequently; don’t share them; don’t leave them lying around; and the longer you brush, the better.”
Privacy concerns over users personal information on Facebook has also been in the spotlight lately. AARP’s survey shows that among Washington Facebook users 18+, nearly three-quarters (72%) report having changed at least some of their privacy settings from the default settings. However, significantly fewer adults aged 65-and-older (33%) have done this. “Social media sites can be a great way to stay active and engaged, just be careful what you share,” says Jeff Lilleskare, Online Safety & Security Risk Management, Microsoft. “Check your settings to make sure only friends can see what you post, or at most friends of friends. Don’t post when you’re going to be traveling. Don’t share your address, and be careful about taking pictures with sensitive information in them,” he says.
Also at the SSC event, AARP released a new report surveying adult internet users in our state, “Up for Grabs”; Erskine says it revealed that “a lack of awareness and knowledge of online dangers may be contributing to increased dangers for Washington consumers” You can see the report here.