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Consumer Protection: Tips to Shop Smart

With recent headlines of massive data breaches at Equifax, Capital One, and other major firms, now more than ever it's a good time to brush up on ways to protect your identity.

Equifax, the nation’s largest credit reporting company, said their breach could have affected more than 145 million U.S. consumers. The breach at Capital One also may have compromised more than 100 million people. In both cases, names, Social Security numbers, birth dates and other identifiable data could have been accessed.

So what can you do to better protect your identity?

Hillsborough County Consumer Protection offers the following tips:

  • Protect your devices - Install high-quality, anti-virus software and update it regularly. Programs can be found at local retail stores such as Wal-Mart, Target, or BestBuy.
  • Secure your network - Password protect and ensure that security is enabled on your Wi-Fi or home networks to deter hackers from uncovering your personal information. A strong password on your home network is an especially important step before you enter your credit card information on retailers' websites. Technical assistance is available from your Internet provider.
  • Browse safely - Look for the security information. Check for the letters, "https:"in the website address at the top of your screen. That "s" in the address stands for "secure." You might also see a little padlock symbol in the same line, meaning it's safe. Be careful and avoid using public Wi-Fi or hotspots that might reveal your personal information.
  • Shop safely - If you're using a site that you're unsure of, consider using an alternate form of payment such as a prepaid debit card for your online shopping. This can offer protection but may also charge a small fee-usually around a dollar per transaction associated with using them; another similar option is to use a third-party company such as PayPal. You may be required to create an account, but can sometimes register as a guest. Remember: always choose a strong password with a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols. Make passwords unique, and don't use the same password for multiple websites or accounts.
  • Protect your information - Take time to monitor your accounts and identity for unauthorized charges during this busy holiday shopping season-this includes credit reports. You can get a copy of your credit report for free and find other important information at AnnualCreditReport.com. Be sure to report suspicious activity to law enforcement immediately as banks or companies might require a police report before agreeing that you're not responsible for any fraudulent charges.

Learn more about Hillsborough County Consumer Protection by calling (813) 635-8316, or visit HCFLGov.net/Consumer