With high-profile data breaches at Marriott and Quora and a new government report about Equifax’s breach, the U.S. PIRG Education Fund is offering tips for consumers to protect themselves as they use their credit and debit cards to travel and buy gifts this holiday season.
“Breached companies from Equifax to Marriott have failed to clearly explain the risks posed by their breaches and the steps consumers can take to protect themselves,” said Mike Litt, consumer campaign director for the fund, a group that helps consumers. “Depending on what information thieves steal in a data breach, consumers could be victims of many different types of identity theft and fraud.”
The U.S. PIRG Education Fund recommends that consumers take the following steps, whether their information was stolen in high profile breaches or not:
- Existing account fraud: Check your monthly credit card and bank statements. Use credit cards instead of debit cards for all online and in-person purchases if possible. Consumers have more legal protections against fraud with credit cards and can also avoid having to wait for their banks to replenish funds stolen from checking accounts.
- New account fraud including cell phone, credit card, and loan and utility accounts: Get credit freezes at all three nationwide credit bureaus –Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
- Tax refund fraud: File your taxes as soon as possible, before thieves do. Also, if you qualify get an identity protection PIN.
- Social Security benefits fraud: Sign up for your “my Social Security” (MySSA) account before thieves claim it and change your direct deposit information to route into their checking accounts.
- Health care services/medical benefits fraud: Sign up for online accounts with your health care and insurance providers to periodically check for any fraudulent services on your statements.
- Other fraudulent activity: Check your free annual consumer reports with companies that specialize in collecting information often misused by criminals.
- Phishing scams: Ignore unsolicited requests for information by email, links, phone calls, pop-up windows, or text messages.
See U.S. PIRG's identity theft and privacy checklists, for more tips on protecting yourself from identity theft and fraud.
“Why to pay monthly fees for overpriced ID theft services when you can protect yourself for free?” asked Litt.