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Identity fraud: 10 simple steps to protect yourself

By Goldman Sachs Ayco Personal Financial Management

A guide for safeguarding your identity

Key takeaways:

  • Don’t go light on security
  • Don’t trust unknown senders
  • Potent passwords are your friend

The Federal Trade Commission reported that there were 2.68 million reports of fraud, scams and identity theft in 2017. According to their national online registry, they list fraud complaints at 1.1 million, identity theft at 371,000 and other scams at 1.2 million.1

Millions of Americans are being adversely affected by this malicious behavior, with $905 million dollars reported lost through imposter scams, credit card fraud and sham debt collection.

To keep your information—and yourself—safe from these schemes, read through the following tips to reduce your chances of being “hacked.”

  1. Remember hardware security
    Today’s smartphones, tablets and PCs all come outfitted with ways to safeguard your data with passwords and biometric devices like fingerprint scanners. Be sure to use them. Also consider password-protecting important files that might house your financial information. The more data you can hide behind encryption and passwords, the better.

  2. Complex passwords are critical
    It might seem convenient to use simple passwords, like 1234 or Password1, but hackers are on the lookout for those basic credentials. Instead, use complicated passwords that include alphanumeric characters and special symbols. Do not use family names, birth dates or any information that may be found on your social media profile. Consider using password manager software that stores your hard-to-remember credentials and setting up two-factor authentication on your email and password manager.

  3. Keep an eye on the browser
    When surfing the web, look for sites that use HTTPS instead of HTTP to improve your security. Also be sure that any site you’re on is real and not a malicious page hoping to dupe you into handing over your information. You can do this by ensuring the address bar matches the website you’re on. Phishing or fraudulent websites will often use similar website names to trick visitors into believing they are visiting trusted sites. If something looks wrong in the information or if you see any warning about the certificate from the web browser, do not proceed.

  4. Remember software security
    Be sure that your computers and smartphones are updated with the latest operating system security patches to sidestep recent threats. You should also ensure that all of the apps you’re running are updated. Install security software and a personal firewall on your home computer. Taking these steps can help protect your device against the ever-changing viruses and methods of attempted invasion. Outdated apps are often more vulnerable to malware than their newest iterations.

  5. Don’t trust unknown senders
    Spam e-mails from people you don’t know can have dangerous links that direct you to malware or phishing websites trying to steal your credentials. If you receive an e-mail from someone you don’t know, trash it. Be cautious about opening unexpected email messages even from known sources. If you have any doubt, contact the person sending the email before opening the message or clicking on any embedded links or attachments.

  6. Beware of Wi-Fi threats
    Public wireless networks at airports or coffee shops are just that—public—and might not be as secure as properly encrypted networks in the home or office. Exercise caution when using a public computer, public Wi-Fi hotspot or paid hotspot to transmit personal or sensitive information (such as email, social media and/or financial data).

  7. Watch your dumpster
    If you get paperwork with private information like account numbers and credit card approvals, don’t just throw them out. Before you toss them, run them through a paper shredder to stop anyone from rummaging through your trash and stealing your identity.

  8. Monitor your credit
    Closely evaluate and manage your credit accounts to ensure no one has stolen your identity or is using your information to make fraudulent charges. As soon as you detect a fraudulent charge on a credit card or find that someone has opened an account in your name, alert the appropriate companies or credit agencies to get it corrected.

  9. Be savvy about skimming
    “Skimming” uses card-reading devices that are fraudulently installed in gas pumps or ATMs that steal the account information of the user. Be wary of loose or ill-fitting face plates or card readers that look like they might have been tampered with. Also cover the key pad when entering your PIN to keep others from observing.

  10. Social awareness
    Social media has grown, and with that growth come threats. Scammers sign up on social media sites, reputable sites and even charities as ordinary people. Set your privacy settings to ensure you’re not sharing too much. Never respond to messages you receive from people or organizations you don’t know. And be suspicious of anyone asking personal questions on social media if you don’t know them, even if they identify themselves as distant relatives.

Want to learn more? Check out other articles from AYCO on financial planning and more.


Goldman Sachs Ayco Personal Financial Management

1Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2017, Federal Trade Commission, March 2018,

This material was prepared by The Ayco Company, L.P. d/b/a Goldman Sachs Ayco Personal Financial Management (“Ayco Personal Financial Management” or “Ayco”), an affiliate of United Capital Financial Advisers, LLC d/b/a Goldman Sachs Personal Financial Management (“GS PFM”). This material was prepared for informational purposes only and should not be construed as personal financial planning, investment, tax, accounting, or legal advice. No investment decisions should be made using this data. GS PFM believes the material used for the article is accurate, but does not verify its accuracy independently and does not warrant or guarantee that is it accurate or complete. Information and opinions expressed in this article are as of the date of this material only and subject to change without notice. ©2021 The Ayco Company, L.P., d/b/a Goldman Sachs Ayco Personal Financial Management. All Rights Reserved. Brokerage services are offered through Goldman Sachs & Co. LLC and Mercer Allied Company, L.P. (a limited purpose broker-dealer), both affiliates of Ayco and members FINRA/SIPC.

Additional materials and revisions by © 2021 United Capital Financial Advisers, LLC d/b/a Goldman Sachs Personal Financial Management. All Rights Reserved.

United Capital Financial Advisers, LLC d/b/a Goldman Sachs Personal Financial Management (“GS PFM”) is a registered investment adviser and an affiliate of Goldman Sachs & Co. LLC and subsidiary of The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., a worldwide, full-service investment banking, broker-dealer, asset management, and financial services organization.

The information contained herein is intended for informational purposes only, is not a recommendation to buy or sell any securities, and should not be considered investment advice. GS PFM does not provide legal, tax, or accounting advice. Clients should obtain their own independent legal, tax, or accounting advice based on their particular circumstances. Please contact your financial adviser with questions about your specific needs and circumstances.

Information and opinions expressed by individuals other than GS PFM employees do not necessarily reflect the view of GS PFM. Information and opinions expressed in this article are as of the date of this material only and subject to change without notice.

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