It’s tough to underestimate the impact of inadequate cybersecurity measures in today’s online environment. Anthem Health Insurance, Equifax, Home Depot and Yahoo are some of the biggest hacks, but are by no means the only ones.
Facebook isn’t a hack per se, but users of the social media site had their personal information supplied to Cambridge Analytica without their knowledge or permission, in a case that continues to unfold with deep ramifications.
The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) cites a Norton security report indicating that Americans lost $19.4 billion to cyberhacks in 2017. In fact, 81 percent of Americans are at least somewhat worried about whether businesses can safeguard their financial and personal information while 40 percent are very or extremely concerned, according to a recent AICPA survey. And about half (48 percent) believe it’s at least somewhat likely that identity theft will take a financial toll on them in the next year.
“Protecting your information is an ongoing process that requires you to be vigilant, identify where you can improve and take action to firm up your safeguards,” said Gregory Anton, CPA, CGMA, chairman of the AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission, in a prepared statement. “This means regularly monitoring your credit card and bank statement and periodically checking your credit report for anything that looks out of the ordinary.”
Yet, 35 percent of Americans have never checked their credit reports – though 61 percent have. Of the latter group, 66 percent had to correct inaccuracies with the credit-reporting agency.
What’s more, 44 percent of Americans with a household income of less than $35,000 were more likely to ignore their credit reports. That’s compared to 30 percent with a household income of at least $100,000 who don’t check their reports.
“Having a good credit score and access to favorable interest rates is something that benefits people of all income brackets, but it is particularly important for those who are in a financial situation where a few percentage points in interest would make a big impact on their financial wellbeing,” Anton said in the prepared statement. “Everyone should check their credit score for free with one of the three major credit reporting agencies at least once a year and not wait until suspicious activity occurs.”
So what can clients do? Plenty. Here’s a snapshot; the Norton report includes more tips.
• Monitor credit and debit card accounts for fraudulent activity.
• Use cash or checks more often.
• Shop at local stores more than national retailers.
• Reduce their online presence – yes, get rid of social media or visit fewer websites.
• Lock or freeze their accounts with the three credit-reporting agencies.
• Other than certain government agencies, banks and insurers, and perhaps property managers, few businesses legally can require a Social Security number.
• Avoid unsecured WiFi networks, such as those in airports or restaurants.
• Don’t provide personal information in response to unsolicited communications – even if the text or email appears to be from a creditable source seeking to “verify” accounts.
If – or shall we say when? – identity theft occurs, clients should contact the credit card company or bank, file a police report, and call the IRS at 800-908-4490 and file Form 14039 Identity Theft Affidavit.
About Terry Sheridan
Terry Sheridan is an award-winning journalist who has covered real estate, mortgage finance, health care, insurance, personal finance, and accounting and taxation issues for newspapers, magazines, and websites. A Chicago native and former South Florida resident, she now lives in New England.