At Hillard Heintze, our client advisers in our Private Client and Family Office Consulting practice regularly help individuals and their family offices assess the risk to the family’s personal information – or PII (personally identifiable information). A good measure of that is education – and helping each family member maintain a high level of awareness when they surf the web, post on social media accounts, manage passwords, handle mail and even properly dispose of outdated digital devices and equipment.

Two in Five Americans Have Been Touched by Identity Theft

According to a Bankrate survey conducted on 1,000 adults, 41 million Americans have had their identity stolen. According to additional research, another 49 million Americans personally know someone whose identity has been stolen or compromised. That means approximately two in five Americans — an astonishing number – have been a victim of identity theft or personally know someone who has been a victim.

Education and Prevention Reduce the Family’s Risk

The best way to minimize the personal and financial damage in the event a family member’s identity is stolen is to notice the problem the instant it occurs. Too many simply don’t use the online mechanisms and software readily available to alert them to fraudulent activity the instant occurs. This can be remedied by following – or having the family member follow – a few basic yet essential steps outlined below. Many of these recommendations are free or low-cost.

  • Check your credit report religiously. A good strategy is to spread out your request throughout the year. Request a credit report every four months from one of the three top credit reporting agencies, totaling three checks per year.
  • Don’t conduct sensitive personal business on unsecured Wi-Fi networks. Do not make online credit card purchases or check bank account information using your username and passwords on unsecured public Wi-Fi.
  • Use different passwords for each of credit card accounts – and change them often. Set up different passwords for each credit card and bank account. Security best practices recommend that you change passwords every 30 to 42 days. Password managing software such as Keeper, Dashlane, Sticky Password and Roboform help make this process easier.
  • Review your credit and debit card statements for fraudulent activity. Don’t just arbitrarily pay the credit card invoices without checking for accuracy and possible fraudulent activity. It can be the easiest and most efficient way to identify possible fraud. No one knows more about a family member’s spending habits than themselves.
  • Set alerts on accounts for large purchases over $500 or for foreign transactions. Many major credit and debit card companies have these alert features that can be set up for free.
  • Dispose of old and outdated smartphones, laptops, and PCs and other devices properly. Use National Association of Information Destruction (NAID) AAA-certified data destruction services to keep malicious actors from accessing PII on old devices.
  • Properly destroy and discard old credit and debit cards, as well as card statements. The best way to do this is to use residential or commercial-grade shredders for home use.
  • Set alerts with a credit monitoring service that are triggered when someone looks at your credit or applies for new credit in your name. Experian, Equifax and Transunion provide this service for a fee.

Following these 8 steps will bring peace of mind – to you and to family members at risk. Even if an incident occurs, exposure may be limited because you or someone else took immediate action.