Q&A: Protecting your personal information from identity theft, fraud

I’ve been reading about data breaches affecting consumers. What can I do to protect myself?

While there is no foolproof way to prevent the loss or theft of your information, you can take these steps to manage the risk: limit what you share; know what is done with your information; monitor your financial records; check your consumer credit report regularly – three or four times a year; report suspicious activity; and don’t ignore notification of data breaches.

How do I limit what I share?

When providing any information online, assume that nothing will remain private. You should assume the worst: once you provide your personal information to others, it will no longer be private. While there is no way to remain truly anonymous when sharing your personal information, you can protect yourself by limiting what you share. For example, think twice before posting vacation pictures online: you are advertising the fact you are away from your home. Likewise, when shopping online, consider what information is really necessary to complete a transaction and provide only that data. Also, look out for pre-checked option boxes that may result in unwanted advertisements and increased sharing of your information. As a rule, share only the minimum information required to complete the task.

How do I know what will be done with my information?

Remember that, once you turn over any information, online or otherwise, you no longer control what happens to it. Social media posts, website registrations, Internet shopping orders and online information services all require, or at least request, your personal information. Some information is necessary for the experience. For example, when ordering a product online, you’ll have to identify yourself, provide shipping information and credit card data. But website organizations also gather information that they can use to deliver advertisements and the like, or they may sell the information to others for their own use.

Before providing any information, you should actually read the website privacy policies and terms of use. The law requires that these parties accurately describe what will be done with your information and how it will be secured. If the policy leaves you unsure of how your personal information will be treated, shop somewhere else.

What can I do to spot identity theft?

You can increase your chances of detecting that your identity has been stolen by closely monitoring your records. Actually reading your bank and credit card statements and looking for suspicious activity can be an effective way to spot illegal use of your information before too much time has passed. Banks also offer online review of your accounts, so you don’t need to wait for monthly written statements to spot suspicious activity. If you see something odd, report it to your bank immediately; the law and policy generally require financial institutions to rectify fraudulent transactions.

What should I do when I receive a notice of a data breach affecting information I’ve provided?

The law of 47 states (including Ohio) and the District of Columbia requires parties that hold or process personal information to notify those affected by a data breach in certain circumstances. Some businesses also provide notification of a breach even when the law does not require it. If you receive a breach notice, do not ignore it! The notice means there is a real possibility that your personal information has been compromised or, at least, that it is at risk. Read the notification closely, and if you have questions, follow up with the party that provided the notice.

The letter you receive should provide contact information. The communication may offer you free credit monitoring or similar services. You should consider taking advantage of the offer, but you should carefully review the terms on which the service is offered.  Several of the credit-monitoring services require you to waive certain rights and remedies, although not all do. Finally, you should even more diligently review all of your account, medical insurance and other records to look for suspicious activity or transfers.

Where can I turn for help?

Both the Federal Trade Commission and the Ohio Attorney General have made identity theft an enforcement priority. If you suspect that your personal information has been lost or used to steal your identity, you can contact those agencies at the following locations: Federal Trade Commission, Eaton Center, Suite 200, 1111 Superior Ave., Cleveland, Ohio  44114; phone: 216-263-3410; or Ohio Attorney General, Antitrust Section, State Office Tower, 30 E. Broad St., Columbus, Ohio 43215-3428; phone: 877-244-6446. You also may lodge your complaint with the FTC online at http://www.Identity Theft.gov. You also should consult an attorney to learn your full rights and options.

This “Law You Can Use” consumer legal information column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was prepared by Cleveland attorney Thomas F. Zych of Thompson Hine LLP. Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek the advice of a licensed attorney.

© 2016 Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.

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