To protect your identity—freeze your credit now
Identity theft has become a multibillion-dollar global industry thanks to cybercriminals mining the treasure trove of consumer information easily found on social media;1 obtaining information through social engineering schemes;2 and harvesting data from breaches at companies large and small worldwide.
For the individual victims, however, it may take years to recover from fraudulent use(s) of their personal information.
Make protecting your personal information a top financial goal for 2021. To protect yourself, and your family, be proactive: Take the time to understand the scope of the problem and to review your individual vulnerabilities. Then take action. Start by freezing your credit—so unauthorized accounts and lines of credit cannot be opened in your name. Other key protective moves are recommended below.
Understand your risks
To begin assessing your vulnerabilities, ask yourself:
How can fraudsters get access to my personal information?
In many cases, you give it to them: by responding to a social engineering scheme; shopping on a duped website; clicking on a link in an online ad; posting personal information on social media.
What information do cybercriminals value?
Cybercriminals target your bank account/bank card number, birth date and your Tax ID, which in the United States, would be your Social Security number. Also desirable: your maiden name/mother’s maiden name, driver’s license number, home address, and online user name and passwords. Using varying combinations of this information, criminals can steal funds from you and/or another person or entity—a retailer, government agency, financial institution.
Won’t I know if someone steals my identity?
Not necessarily. It may be months before you learn2 that your identity has been stolen—unless you subscribe to a fraud monitoring service, or regularly check each of your credit reports3 for unauthorized transactions. Optimally, this should be done every quarter and with each credit bureau, as information will vary in each report.
Doesn’t discovering a data theft stop the problem?
No. Once a scammer has your personal information, they can continue to use it and/or sell it. There’s an active market for personal data on the dark web,4 where buyers and sellers trade information anonymously. Sophisticated criminals will aim to compile a more robust profile of you/your family members with information gleaned from social media5 and other sources.
How might a fraudster use my identity?
The list is long. A few fraud crimes recently reported by several J.P. Morgan clients included an application for a disaster loan; another for unemployment benefits (a wildly popular COVID-19-related scam6); and a third for a 30-year $150,000 mortgage. In a fourth instance, a home was retitled without the owner knowing their name was no longer on the property!
Who’s at risk?
Trends vary by country. In the United States it’s anyone with a Social Security number, with the very young and the very old among the most vulnerable. Children, because their credit history is a blank slate; seniors, because they may be more trusting and less likely to detect fraudsters.
Protect yourself and your family
While you can’t avoid all risks, doing these three simple things right now will help limit access to your personal information:
1. Freeze your credit.
Also known as a “security freeze,” this stops merchants and institutions from routinely accessing your credit report, thereby making it more difficult for criminals to open accounts in your name or abuse your credit. A security freeze does not affect your credit score. Keep in mind: You must request a freeze from each individual credit bureau. Do the same for every family member. For instructions on how to freeze your credit, click here. (Institutions can often tell you which credit bureau they will check during the loan application. You can unfreeze it if you are seeking a loan and refreeze your credit after the check is complete.)
2. Review your credit reports.
Request a copy of your credit report directly from the leading credit bureaus in your country. Be on the lookout for unauthorized activities—account openings, transactions, etc. Keep in mind: The information on each report may differ. For a deeper view going forward, consider reviewing all reports each quarter. Do the same for all family members.
3. Subscribe to a credit monitoring service.
Get alerts whenever changes are made to your credit history, such as credit applications/credit account openings; address or name changes to your credit file; public record notices, such as bankruptcy filings. Some services also monitor the dark web for your Social Security number, email address and/or passwords. Keep in mind: These services do not prevent identity theft, protect you from security breaches or warn if someone files a tax return in your name and collects your refund.
Learn more about additional protective steps you can take, here.
And always, evaluate before you act. If you receive a request to provide personal or financial information, take a step back from the situation to evaluate it. Even if the requestor claims to be your bank or other trusted organization, don’t rush to action!
We can help
Remember, J.P. Morgan will never:
- Ask you to log in to the same computer with more than one user’s credentials
- Ask you to repeatedly submit login credentials
- Contact you about online problems, such as logging in, if you haven’t contacted us first
If you believe you have been a victim of fraud or your login credentials have been compromised, please contact your J.P. Morgan team immediately.
Contact your J.P. Morgan team if you would like to learn more about our fraud awareness programs or about Credit Journey, our credit monitoring service; or to schedule a session with our fraud prevention experts.