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Keeping your good name safe in an electronic age

SPONSORED — Today’s digital era brings everyone efficiency and speed. Anyone can pay back a friend simply by sending a text, apply for a loan online and deposit a check just by taking a picture. Convenient? Absolutely. But this ease can come at a price.

Fraudsters can access consumers’ personal information in new ways, making cyber security and identity protection a growing initiative. According to a new 2017 Identity Fraud Study from Javelin Strategy & Research, 15.4 million Americans had their information stolen by scammers in 2016.

The Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network also reports that identity theft complaints increased to over 3 million in 2015, a 47 percent increase from 2014 to 2015. Almost half of victims’ information in 2015 was used on government documents or benefits, followed by credit card fraud and phone and utilities.

This can include establishing new accounts or making purchases using victims’ information, applying for loans under a victim’s Social Security number or filing for taxes using that person’s information. Once fraudsters obtain a victim’s information, it can wreak havoc on the consumer’s credit history and wallet, potentially impacting his ability to get a loan or open new accounts.

How do fraudsters obtain your personal data?

Cybercrime, including cyberattacks and data breaches, continues to be a growing contributor to the increase of identity theft. The Identity Theft Research Center reported just over 300 data breaches in 2006. Nine years later, this number was up to a whopping 781. (Unfortunately, the actual number of cybercrimes may be even higher, as many attacks and breaches go unreported.) This resulted in over 28 million consumer records being exposed in 2015.

The cost of having your identity stolen

What are the implications of identity theft to consumers? The Javelin report found that thieves stole $16 billion through identity theft in 2016. This puts the mean fraud amount per victim at just over $1,000.

Proactively protecting your information

For most people, keeping their information off the web isn’t an option, even if they never go online themselves. So how can you protect your good name and monitor for fraudulent uses of your information?

Start by staying alert — literally. If you haven’t already done so, set up spending and activity alerts with your bank, credit union or credit card provider. Most institutions allow customers to sign up for alerts on purchases or transactions that exceed a particular dollar limit or occur overseas or for purchases that are out of the ordinary.

Then, keep tabs on your credit score and history. The three major reporting companies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) are required to give you a free copy of your credit report every 12 months if you ask for it.

Visit AnnualCreditReport.com or call 877-322-8228 to order your report. Review your report carefully for warning signs of actual or potential theft. These can include mention of a credit card, loan or line of credit that you never applied for.

For consistent, proactive monitoring of your information, consider signing up for a credit monitoring or identity theft resolution service. Several companies monitor the web and other databases for uses of your personal information.

Many will even work with you if you do become the victim of identity theft or if you incur costs as a result of a theft. While these services typically include an annual or monthly membership fee, they can serve as a valuable layer of extra protection — especially if you’ve experienced identity theft in the past or you’ve been a victim of a data breach.

For example, Washington Federal offers IDProtect for no additional charge to Green and Stellar Plus Checking account holders. (Both types of accounts require $100 to open.) IDProtect is an identity theft monitoring and resolution service for you and your eligible family members.

IDProtect includes credit file monitoring, a three-in-one credit report, identity theft expense reimbursement coverage and resolution services.

To find out more about Green or Stellar Plus Checking, including IDProtect, call 800-324-9375, visit online or stop by any of 250 locations throughout Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada and Texas.

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