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Taking Charge of Your Digital Identity

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Are you fully aware of your digital identity?

Up For Grabs? - Washington Consumers Unknowingly Putting Their Digital Identities at Risk

Hardly a month goes by without hearing of another data breach exposing our personal information to hackers and potential identity thieves. These breaches affect millions of individuals: Equifax–147 million, Target–110 million, Uber–57 million, Home Depot–53 million, and the list goes on and on. According to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, there were over 738 data breaches in 2017 exposing more than 2-billion individual’s records. In fact, experts say very few of us haven’t been affected.

And while identity thieves are busy sharing and selling our personal information online, a new state survey from AARP shows Washington consumers are falling further behind in the battle to protect their identities. While confusion on just what steps to take are holding many back, some consumers have simply thrown in the towel and conceded that it’s only a matter of time before they’re the next victim of identity theft.

AARP’s “Up for Grabs” survey of Washington online users ages 18+ revealed that a lack of awareness and knowledge of online dangers may be contributing to increased dangers for Washington consumers. Many also admit they have just given up. A full six-in-ten (60%) of those surveyed said that given the number of data breaches that have occurred over the past five years, they feel that no matter what they do, it is inevitable that criminals will use their stolen identity to exploit their credit at some point.

To help consumers better protect their digital information from sophisticated identity thieves, AARP has joined with the Washington State Attorney General’s Office, Microsoft, the Federal Trade Commission, BECU and the Social Security Administration to launch “Taking Charge of Your Digital Identity.” The statewide consumer information campaign is urging consumers to take three key steps to protect themselves:

1) Set up and monitor online banking and checking accounts often;

2) Freeze your credit; and

3) Strengthen online passwords and privacy settings.

This month, we’re exploring the importance of setting up online access to your accounts and reviewing them often.

Check Your Online Accounts

With the ever increasing number of data breaches, experts say almost all of us have had our personal information exposed to potential identity thieves. So it’s vital that consumers have online access to all of their important bank accounts, credit cards and retirement accounts and to check them frequently.

According to AARP’s report however, only four-in-ten (38%) of Washington adults have set-up online accounts for all of their bank accounts, while one-in-five (21%) admit they have not set up online access to any of their bank accounts. Similarly, only half (50%) of Washington adults have set-up online access to all of their credit cards, while more than one-quarter (27%) haven’t set up access to any of their credit cards.

“A lot can happen while waiting for that next paper statement from your bank,” says AARP Communications Director Jason Erskine. “With so much of our personal information available for sale on illegal and even legal online marketplaces, criminals can do lasting damage with just a few clicks of the mouse. Consumers need to pay close attention to their accounts and check for suspicious activity on a regular basis.”

To make matters worse, some consumers who say they are staying offline are doing so for all the wrong reasons. Nearly half of survey respondents who have not set up online access to some or any of their bank or credit card accounts (45%) say they haven’t because they are afraid their personal information will get stolen; about four-in-ten (41%) say they feel safer without an online account; and over one-third (36%) say they don’t trust the internet.

“It’s ironic and unfortunate that fear and mistrust of the internet is actually putting people in greater danger that their personal information will be stolen and used by ID thieves,” says Erskine. “Crooks have told us that people without online accounts are the perfect targets. It allows the criminals to set up online access themselves, and to even set passwords and identifying information locking people out of their own accounts.”

Check back in the coming weeks as we explore additional safety tips including when and how to set up a credit freeze; the importance of strong passwords; privacy and safety on social media; and more.

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