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Heartbleed Bug and the Need for Vigilance, Tips for Online Safety

The Heartbleed bug, a virus that made information on so-called “secure” websites insecure, is just the latest piece of news in a longstanding reality that hackers are after your financial data. If there is good news in the revelation of the breach that has been going on for about two years, it’s that what you do to protect yourself from all data theft, works in this case, too.

It is also good news that companies already have a fix for the bug that gives hackers the ability to see your data. Once they implement the update, it doesn’t mean that the problem is solved. You need to follow a few pieces of advice from American Financial Solutions, designed to prevent you from becoming a fraud victim.

  • Read your bills regularly. The best and quickest way to find out if someone has accessed your financial information and is using your accounts is to read your statements as they arrive. In fact, if you have any questions you should check your account activity online. Since so many lenders and other companies have apps for smart phones, you can make it easier by checking your info on your phone. You are protected from fraudulent charges, but you first have to find them. Read your statements regularly.
  • Check your credit report regularly. Granted, this is an after the fact solution. In other words, if your information has been compromised you won’t find out until someone takes advantage of the breach. But checking your credit report will help you find errors. Some of them might not be related to any fraud, so it’s a good practice to be doing anyway. Report any mistakes you see to the companies reporting the incorrect information and to the credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.
  • Change your passwords and make them different for different accounts. We don’t want to overstate the benefits of changing our passwords, because a thief who has your password is not likely to wait very long to use it. The thief will take whatever opportunity there is to use your info before you can do anything to prevent it. Nonetheless, it might be worthwhile to change your login info occasionally. The biggest protection you can give yourself, aside from not conducting business online at all, is making sure you have separate passwords for different accounts. A thief who has your login information from one company can guess you have accounts elsewhere and use the information to get money from other accounts. Since having different passwords makes it more difficult to remember each one, you might need to write them down somewhere only you can access.
  • Consider adding a fraud alert to your credit report. While this will not prevent someone from using accounts you already have, it can help to prevent them from opening new accounts. You can place a fraud alert by contacting one of the three major credit bureaus. They will notify the other two bureaus.

The Heartbleed bug might take weeks to correct at different businesses, so consider changing your information now, then again in a couple of months, after a fix has been installed nearly everywhere. In the meantime, follow the four tips above and improve the chances you will not become an identity theft victim.

Published Apr 14, 2014.