The pandemic has impacted more than the physical health of Americans. With cybercrime on the rise, many have taken a hit to their financial health, including damage resulting from identity theft. The Leaven spoke to Rita Herken, administrative services director for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, about preventative steps to reduce the threat of identity theft.
Q. What is identity theft and is it on the rise due to the pandemic?
A. Identity theft is when an unauthorized person uses your personal information without your knowledge or consent in a dishonest or illegal way. Identity theft has been on the rise for years. Fraudulent unemployment claims soared during the pandemic.
Q. What personal information is the most vulnerable to identity theft?
A. Your name, date of birth and social security number.
Q. How do most thieves access your personal information?
A. This happens in many ways, including stealing your mail, your trash (to obtain bank statements, credit card statements, old credit cards, preapproved credit card offers, etc.). It can also occur if you share any of this information via email, use your credit card or bank information on an unsecured website or a public Wi-Fi connection or if your wallet is stolen with your checkbook, bank cards or credit cards.
Q. What are basic rules for protecting your identity?
A. Shred preapproved credit card offers, shred or cut up old credit cards, do not use unsecured websites for payments or donations. Secure websites start with “https.” The “s” indicates it is secure.
Q. How should you respond to phone calls seeking personal information?
A. Do not share your personal or financial information over the phone, even if it sounds legitimate. Tell the caller to send you the information in the mail. I received a call from a company claiming to be associated with my bank to ensure I purchased a computer at a local store and stated the store name, date and price. They wanted me to verify my bank account information to ensure they were speaking with the authorized account holder and that the charge was legitimate. I had purchased a computer that day, but responded that they would need to verify who they were or an individual from my bank could call me to verify the charge. I would not give them my bank account information. They were surprised by my hesitation, but relented, called an officer at my bank who called me to confirm that this company was working on the bank’s behalf to prevent fraudulent charges.
Q. Are church weekly offerings safe from identity theft?
A. Yes. Parishes follow the archdiocese’s internal auditor’s guidance to ensure proper handling, processing and deposits. Autopayments are safe when using secure websites (https).
Q. How do you distinguish between legitimate agencies and scammers?
A. Sometimes, this is difficult. If you are unsure, err on the side of caution. If the request is over the phone or email, do not share any personal or financial information. If you did not request that they contact you, you are not obligated to respond. During tax season, always remember that the IRS will not contact you by phone or email. They communicate through mail.
Q. What is a strong password?
A. A strong password is at least eight characters long, using a combination of numbers, letters (uppercase and lowercase) and special symbols. An example is: !20Pray4Every1*. Never use the word “password,” your birthday or anniversary, your name or 1234567890 as a password.
Q. How often should you change your password?
A. I recommend changing it every three months.
Q. Where should you store your password if you can’t remember it?
A. Store it in a secure location that only you can access. Do not tape it to the bottom of your keyboard or leave it near the computer.
Q. What is phishing?
A. Phishing is an online scam where criminals pose as a legitimate organization or individual via email or text to steal personal or financial information. A common example of phishing is an email that appears to be from your pastor asking you to immediately send him or someone else money or specific gift cards.
If you look closely at the email address, it is not your pastor’s email, or the words in the email do not sound like it is from your pastor. It may not be signed as your pastor normally signs his name. For example, you might know that Father Robert Smith typically signs as “Father Bob,” but the email is from Father Robert. If you are in doubt, call the parish office to verify the request.
Q. What settings should your phone be on to avoid sharing personal information?
A. Install operating system updates as they appear. These address known security issues or vulnerabilities. Use antivirus software. Delete apps that you no longer use. Avoid entering any passwords or financial information when using public Wi-Fi. Lock your phone and close out of all apps when not using them.
Q. What type of home internet should you have to secure your personal and financial transactions?
A. With home Wi-Fi, ensure it is password-protected to prevent unauthorized access and unwanted monitoring.
Q. Are there any services or products you recommend to protect your private and personal information?
A. Use common sense. If it doesn’t seem right, don’t share anything. Review your bank and credit card statements monthly and contact the institution immediately if there are any unusual charges or activity. Use antivirus and malware software on your home computer. Consider purchasing a product to protect and monitor your private and personal information; Norton LifeLock is well respected and highly rated. Request a free copy of your credit report from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion once a year. (Some recommend that you space out your free order and do one company every four months.) This allows you to review your credit report for suspicious activity or other signs of identity theft.
Q. What steps should you take to repair the damage if you are the victim of identity theft?
A. Call your bank or credit card company if you need assistance. Notify the Federal Trade Commission, your credit card provider, bank or other financial institutions, the IRS and the Social Security Administration.
Q. How long could it take you to repair the damage from identity theft?
A. It could take hours or years to resolve the damage depending on the depth of the theft.
Rita Herken has worked for the archdiocese for nearly 24 years, most recently as its director of administrative services. She and her husband are members of St. Joseph-St. Lawrence Parish in Easton, own and operate a family dairy farm with their son and daughter-in-law and will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary in August.