Of all the things nurses have on their worry lists right now, you’d think credit fraud shouldn’t be close to the top. But a rash of criminal activity and credit fraud during the COVID-19 pandemic has caused everyone to pay extra attention to their credit reports and financial statements than ever before.
In some states, like Massachusetts, claims for unemployment fraud have skyrocketed. Without realizing their information had ever been compromised, people are finding out that someone has been using their name and personal information to apply for unemployment. Oftentimes, they don’t find out about it until they go to file a legitimate unemployment claim and are told someone else beat them to it.
Others are finding charges they never made on a credit card statement. Although there’s never a time to let your guard down when it comes to protecting your financial security, it’s especially important to keep alert right now.
What are some things you can do to protect yourself? According to the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, there are specific tasks you can do now to protect yourself from credit fraud.
Check Your Credit Frequently
Checking your credit reports is essential to keeping track of your information. Right now, frequent checks are also free. Go to Annual Credit Report.com where you can request a credit report from the three major credit services Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. Look for any accounts you didn’t open, lines of credit you didn’t request, or anything that looks unfamiliar to you. Keeping a close eye on your credit reports gives you an advantage of catching any inaccuracies early.
Protect Your Numbers
Treat your Social Security number and identifying information with the greatest care. Don’t give the numbers out to anyone and choose carefully how you send information. For instance, your bank might need your Social Security number, but don’t text it to them and don’t send it in an email. If they need it, you can enter it on their encrypted website, call, or visit in person. Other methods aren’t secure.
Guard Your Passwords
No one should ask you for a password, so if someone does, be especially cautious and let it raise an immediate red flag for you. There are many scams that rely on emails asking you to enter your password to clear up a problem with your account. Those are effective scams as they raise your worry level that something is wrong. If you think there’s really a potential problem, call the company with a verified phone number, not the one contained in the email, to see if they have a valid concern. And those fun Facebook quizzes about your favorite drink, car, pet, or school? They are a particularly rich source of information for criminals who mine for data and find those answers. They are often the security questions banks or credit cards may use to help protect your accounts. As fun as they are, you’re giving out an incredible amount of secure information when you participate.
With so many criminals using the confusion and upheaval of the times to gain easy access to people’s finances, being extra critical of opportunities to make money is a good stance. Be suspicious of people who tell you they have a great work-from-home opportunity that only requires you to pay a little upfront. Be cautious of people who call and ask you to take a survey about the people in your home or about your retirement funds. Hang up on someone who asks you for a Social Security number so they can send you a stimulus check.
Being vigilant about your credit safety isn’t easy, but it can become a habit over time that will save you a lot of hassle. In the end, it’s always worth it to take safety measures right now rather than in hindsight. Stay alert to potential fraud and protect yourself.