Pennsylvania has been hit hard in the past month from various personal information thefts, data breaches, and ATM skimming. These various crimes all have one thing in common: using your personal information against you.

  • The Pennsylvania Attorney General warned of a new credit card phone scam. An automated call from a toll-free number informs the consumer that a hold has been placed on their account. The consumer is then to call the number listed and provide their complete credit card information.
  • Police in Bucks County have found evidence of ATM skimming in Newtown, Langhorne, and Middletown Township. Pennsylvania State Police are encouraging people in southern Bucks County and Northeast Philadelphia to monitor their bank accounts closely for unauthorized withdrawals.
  • Twenty Pennsylvania hospitals are affected by a nationwide data breach. Community Health Systems was the target of an international data breach. Hackers stole the personal information of approximately 4.5 million patients who used Community Health Systems, including Carlisle Regional Medical Center, Chestnut Hill Hospital, Lock Haven Hospital, and Brandywine Hospital among others.
  • Two PA-based UPS stores were among the 51 stores breached when the malware attack occurred in late March this year. The attack was eliminated by August 11. Customer names, addresses, e-mail addresses, and payment card information were compromised in the breach. The PA-based locations were in Monroeville and Edwardsville.
  • The United States Secret Service alerted P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, the popular Asian-themed dining restaurant chain, about a potential security breach involving credit and debit card information. P.F. Chang’s China restaurants in Collegeville, PA; Glen Mills, Pa.; and Pittsburgh were named alongside 30 other national restaurants as being victims of a suspected data breach.

Alongside other major data breaches including eBay and Albertson’s, CNN Money has called 2014 the “year of the hack” and estimates that half of American adults have been hacked this year.

So how do you protect yourself and your loved ones from financial heartache caused by identity theft and data breaches? While it’s almost impossible to prevent your information falling into the wrong hands, here are some helpful tips on lessening your chances of becoming a victim:

  • Do not reveal or give out personal information over the telephone.
  • Never give out billing information over the phone, especially to strangers.
  • If you receive a call claiming to be from a company, hang up and find the company’s number online. Call that number directly.
  • If an ATM appears to be tampered with or glue or tape residue is on the machine, do not use the machine and alert either the bank staff or call 911.
  • Use your hand to cover an ATM keypad while entering your PIN. Be mindful of anyone who is paying too-close attention to your movements while at the ATM.
  • Do not throw any sensitive information away. Shred any documents with your social security number, bank account numbers, or personally-identifiable information.
  • Closely monitor your bank account statements each month.

If you are a victim of fraud or you suspect yourself to be a victim of fraud, immediately contact your bank. Then call one of the credit reporting companies such as Equifax (1-800-525-6285), Experian (1-888-397-3742), or TransUnion (1-800-680-7289). More information on repairing identity theft can be found at the Federal Trade Commission website.

Using simple security practices and common sense can save you a lot of the headache that comes with identity theft. Be sure to incorporate these practices into your daily routine, make a habit of them, and continue to be mindful of any potential security threats.