Barbara Kim Stanton
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist

For the price of a cup of coffee, a criminal can buy your personal information on the Dark Web and begin stealing your identity. Despite that alarming thought, a recent AARP survey found that most people do not take basic precautions against identity fraud.

So much personal information has been exposed over the years — from the Zippy’s credit card data breach here in Hawai‘i, to the recent Equifax hack, to Yahoo’s record data breach of about 3 billion users — that experts say you should assume your personal information has already been stolen.

Despite the headlines, our survey found many Americans continue to put themselves at higher risk for identity theft by:

  • Reusing the same passwords: Nearly half (48 percent) of adults have used the same password for more than one online account.
  • Not having online bank account access: Only about four in 10 (43 percent) of those surveyed report having online access to all of their bank accounts.
  • Not freezing our credit: About half (47 percent) of adults reported they have experienced fraudulent charges on their credit or debit cards, yet only 14 percent have ordered a security freeze from credit reporting agencies.

Most of us just don’t protect our identities with these simple safeguards because it seems like too much effort to no avail. In fact, about two-thirds of those surveyed said they think it’s inevitable that criminals will exploit their credit cards at some point.

But when you see that fraudulent charge on your credit card, it’s going to make you upset and probably mad. And while credit card companies are good at detecting fake charges and notifying you about them, it’s not their responsibility to protect your money — it’s yours.

Here are three steps you can take to protect your digital identity:

  • Order a Credit Freeze: Thanks to a new law in Hawai‘i and a new federal law, it’s free to freeze your credit. Go to AARP.org/Creditfreeze to learn how to do it. By telling the three major credit reporting bureaus that you want to freeze your credit, no one else can access your credit files or open a new credit account with your information. If you need to grant someone access to your report to get a loan or a new credit card, you can unfreeze it temporarily and then freeze it again to keep your information private.
  • Set up Digital Access: Set up online access to all of your financial accounts — bank accounts, credit cards, 401(k)s, etc. That way you can regularly monitor the accounts and more easily recognize fraudulent activity.
  • Use Separate Passwords: Make sure you have a unique password for each of your online accounts so that if one account is hacked, it doesn’t compromise your other accounts. You can use a digital password manager. Look for password managers in the app store. They help you create different, strong passwords for your accounts and keep your passwords secure.

Go to aarp.org/FraudWatchNetwork for more tips and to learn more about AARP’s efforts to raise awareness and protect you from identity thieves.

Barbara Kim Stanton has been the state director of AARP Hawai‘i since 2005. She writes about living a life of real possibilities, where age is not a limit and experience equals wisdom.

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