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Every year, millions of U. S. consumers become victims of identity theft and experience the misuse of their personal information.

In recognition of “National Cybersecurity Awareness Month,” these tips can help you protect your personal information from identity thieves.

Fraudsters can use your personal information to conduct a variety of illegitimate transactions, such as opening bogus accounts, filing tax returns and getting access to medical care, according to the American Bankers Association. As a result, consumers are urged to safeguard their personal information before it gets into the wrong hands.

Tips to Protect your Identity

  • Never share your secrets. Do not provide your Social Security number or bank or credit card account information to anyone who contacts you online or over the phone. Protect your PINs and passwords and do not share them with anyone. Use a combination of letters, numbers and symbols to create strong passwords and change them periodically. Never post personal or sensitive information on social media.
  • Shred sensitive papers. Shred receipts, bank and credit card statements and unused credit card offers before throwing them in the trash.
  • Keep an eye out for missing mail. Fraudsters look for monthly bank or credit card statements or other mail containing financial information. Enroll in American Federal Online Banking to reduce the likelihood of paper statements being stolen. Do not mail bills from your own mailbox with the flag up. Enroll in American Federal Online Bill Pay to pay your bills conveniently and securely.
  • Use Online Banking to protect yourself. Monitor your financial accounts regularly for fraudulent transactions. Sign up for email or text alerts for certain types of transactions, such as transactions of $500 or more.
  • Monitor your credit report. Order a free copy of your credit report every four months from one of the three credit reporting agencies at annualcreditreport.com. Rotate your orders through each of the bureaus, so you are reviewing your credit report from different agencies. Regularly order credit reports for your children as well. Children are often victims of identity theft.
  • Protect your computer. Make sure the virus protection software and patches on your computer are active and up to date. When conducting business online, make sure your browser’s padlock or key icon is active. Also look for an “s” after the “http” to be sure the website is secure.

Protect your Mobile Device

Your mobile device provides convenient access to your email, bank and social media accounts. Unfortunately, it can potentially provide the same access for criminals. Follow these tips to keep your information – and your money – safe.

  • Use the passcode lock on your smartphone and other devices. This will make it more difficult for thieves to access your information, if your device is lost or stolen.
  • Log out completely when you finish a mobile banking session.
  • Protect your phone from viruses and malicious software, or malware, just like you do for your computer by installing mobile security software.
  • Use caution when downloading apps. Apps can contain malicious software, worms and viruses. Beware of apps that ask for unnecessary “permissions” and delete unused or rarely used apps.
  • Download the updates for your phone and mobile apps.
  • Avoid storing sensitive information like passwords or a social security number on your mobile device.
  • Tell your financial institution immediately if you change your phone number or lose your mobile device.
  • Be aware of shoulder surfers. The most basic form of information theft is observation. Be aware of your surroundings especially when you are entering sensitive information on a keypad.
  • Wipe your mobile device before you donate, sell or trade it using specialized software or using the manufacturer’s recommended technique. Some software allows you to wipe your device remotely if it is lost or stolen.
  • Beware of mobile phishing. Avoid opening links and attachments in emails and texts, especially from senders you do not know. And, be wary of ads (not from your security provider) claiming that your device is infected.
  • Watch out for public Wi-Fi. Public connections are not secure, so do not perform banking transactions on a public network. If you need to access your account, try disabling the Wi-Fi and switching to your mobile network. Consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) app to secure and encrypt your communications when connecting to a public Wi-Fi network.

Report any suspected fraud to your bank immediately.