Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve seen a significant increase in the purchase of term life and health insurance policies due to the devastating impacts of COVID. Though most people understand why these coverages have been crucial during the current health crisis, many have not recognized the quickly growing need for identity theft and cyber protection.

In 2020, the FTC received 4.8 million identity (ID) theft and fraud complaints, an increase of 45 percent in 2019. We saw cyber thieves getting more creative and aggressive during the pandemic. Nearly one-third of the FTC complaints filed last year were for scams involving government benefits, including federal stimulus payments and unemployment claims. We also saw scammers creating fake business names similar to a legitimate business but using the EIN/tax ID number of the member’s business to get a loan. Cases like these are incredibly frustrating and can be a nightmare to resolve when multiple government entities are involved.

Another common way to be a victim of ID theft is through phishing scams, where an attacker sends a fraudulent message designed to trick someone into revealing sensitive information. I’ve seen people in the process of closing on a house receive an email from a Realtor whose email address was slightly off, but they were asking the sellers to wire money before closing. We’ve also seen a considerable increase in ransomware attacks, a type of malware that threatens to publish the victim’s data or perpetually block access unless a ransom is paid.

Last year, Tennesseans reported losses of $40.6 million due to fraud and identity theft — at this rate, we aren’t expecting that number to decrease for 2021. Fortunately, there are also some key things that you can implement to ensure you’re as protected as possible.

Install antivirus software to prevent or remove malware from your computer.

Consider using a VPN (virtual private network) to ensure safety on public Wi-Fi networks and even protect your data privacy from your internet service provider.

Create strong and unique passwords for your computers, tablets, iPads and smartphones.

Always pay close attention to the spelling of email addresses and don’t open their attachments. When in doubt, call the company claiming to need information from you to verify it’s legitimate before you respond.

Consider these helpful resources like adding a fraud alert to your credit report, implementing a credit freeze and signing up for the Do Not Call registry.

Purchase an ID theft protection plan that protects the entire family (children are equally at risk).

If you’re a business owner, there are also programs available to safeguard your company’s most valuable assets.

Business ID theft protection will track the trade and selling of business-related information through surveillance and monitoring services, including bank account numbers, employee email addresses, credit card numbers and business URLs to alert you when your information is at risk.

Data breaches and ID theft events are never 100 percent preventable. In the event of a data breach, cyber/breach insurance will assist in limiting the damage, delivering legally mandated notifications to your affected customers and taking proactive resolution measures to help reduce the negative impact. The coverage will also protect against costly lawsuits.

Group ID theft protection plans not only provide protection if your employee’s data is hacked but also offers the ability to expand an employee benefit plan with a service that is timely to your team’s needs. The employee benefit protection plans often come at a significant discount if purchased as a group.

Whether you’re concerned about yourself, your business or your employees, ID theft and cybersecurity events are on the rise, and you should consider a protection plan that features benefits designed to reduce your risk of becoming a victim.

Jeff Zander has more than 40 years of experience working in the insurance industry and specializing in all areas of personal, business and employee benefit programs. Nashville-based Zander Insurance Group was founded nearly 100 years ago by his great grandfather Herman Zander, and Jeff is CEO of this fourth-generation, family-and-employee-owned business.

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