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National survey: most don’t protect their online identity

Image from Tribune Media

An alarming number of people fail to take even the most basic precautions against identity theft and online fraud, according to a new national survey.

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) survey shows a pattern of risky online behavior among consumers despite many of them being directly affected in some manner by a data breach.

Nearly half (47 percent) of those surveyed say they have experienced fraudulent charges on their credit or debit card, yet only about 14 percent have ordered a security freeze on their credit report. In addition, only four in ten (43 percent) reported having online access to all of their bank accounts.

“Our survey results indicate that a lot of people may feel overwhelmed, and have just given up,” said Douglas Shadel, AARP’s lead fraud researcher. “Two-thirds of those surveyed said that given the number of data breaches that have occurred, they think it is inevitable that criminals will be able to exploit their credit at some point. But we are emphasizing that there are powerful things you can do to make sure that stolen data can’t be used against you,” Shadel said.

Using different and complex passwords is one simple way to help prevent identity theft. About half of the AARP survey respondents have used the same password for more than one online account.

“It is hard to remember multiple passwords, but if you constantly use the same password then you risk compromising all of your online accounts, including any social media accounts such as Facebook,” said Tom Terronez, CEO of Terrostar Interactive, a digital marketing agency based in Davenport, Iowa. “It is more secure to write your passwords down and then put them in a protected location such as a fire-proof safe,” Terronez suggests.

The AARP Fraud Network also recommends the following:

Order a Freeze – Put a security freeze in place with the three credit reporting bureaus so that no one can access your credit file or open a new credit account with your information. AARP offers a free guide to the process.  Traditionally there has been a fee for placing a freeze on your credit report, but beginning later this month the process is free.

Set up Digital Access – Set up online access to all of your financial accounts – bank accounts, credit cards, 401(k)s, etc. — and regularly monitor the accounts so you can stay up-to-date on all transactions and recognize any fraudulent activity that may occur.

Interested in testing your security smarts? Try this free online quiz.