When the COVID-19 pandemic gained speed in North America back in March, most of us hunkered down in our homes in an attempt to slow down and hopefully stop the spread of the virus (something we’re still trying to do, all these months later). We practiced social distancing, connected by video chat and chose to avoid public spaces as much as possible. This was a smart approach but for some individuals, it led to an increase in online shopping as idle hands clicked away. And to be fair, while some of it may have been boredom-induced shopping or panic buying, plenty was necessary. We ordered groceries by delivery in record numbers and paid other goods online in order to take advantage of curbside pick up. Many office staff began working from home and in some cases, we even began to see our doctors online!
Many of these habits are here to stay, and will change the fabric of our careers and lives for decades to come. Simply put, our digital lives are even more digital these days. It’s not necessarily a bad thing and in fact, it’s had some great perks, but it also means being more cautious. Here are some steps you can take to avoid online fraud and identity theft during COVID-19 and beyond.
Be cautious about what you share online—even with friends
You probably know not to share your full name, Social Insurance Number (SIN), address or banking information online, but some elements of identity theft are more subtle. You know those fun graphics that say something like, “Your maiden name + the street you grew up on = your soap opera name. Share yours in the comments!” Sure, these posts are a fun time-waster on a slow afternoon, but they’re also incredibly revealing. Those answers can help someone break into your online banking or other accounts by helping them reply to your security questions accurately. The same goes for sharing your birth month and date, parents’ names, family details and other personal data. It’s incredibly important not to do this on public pages (for example, replying to a brand on Facebook) but also within your social circle. Once these details are online, they’re there for good. It’s time to take a pass on these too-public sharing games!
Protect your passwords online
Most of us have multiple passwords that we use online, and it can be hard to keep track of them all in your head. If you want to keep a log of your various online passwords, consider keeping them on paper within your desk. Change them regularly and update your paper reference sheet. Don’t share these passwords with anyone and always use an encrypted Internet connection to avoid being hacked. You can also use a two step authentication app such as Google Authenticator to help protect your accounts. Better safe than sorry!
Review your monthly financial statements
Fraudulent incidents are sometimes so bold and overt that you (or your financial institution) notice right away and take action. Other times, it’s a slow, subtle burn that takes a while to catch. To avoid the latter scenario, be sure to review all of your financial statements on a monthly basis. This includes your credit card and bank statements as well as any digital statements (utilities, a phone bill, etc). This way, you can flag fraud in a timely manner, address it and clear any fraudulent charges from your record. This is particularly important if you’re looking to access credit like a personal loan.
Check your credit score on a regular basis
Similarly to what we’ve just said about reviewing your financial statements, you should check your credit score on a regular basis. We suggest doing this every couple of months or at least every six months. This will help you flag any issues and deal with them promptly. For example, if your credit score suddenly dips and you’re not sure why, it could help you find fraudulent activity on a credit card or other account under your name. It’s a simple, easy step that can help protect you from identity theft and other forms of online fraud.
If you need access to credit, we can help.
These tips are designed to help keep you safe and protected online. It’s been a challenging year for many Canadians, and the last thing we want to see anyone impacted by an avoidable case of fraud. Stay alert, stay vigilant and stay safe! And if you’re looking for guidance or access to personal loans during COVID-19, remember that we are here to help. Please reach out to your local easyfinancial branch or easyhome store, or give us a call at 1-888-502-3279.