By Andrew D. Burish

Security breaches and data leaks regularly populate headlines. In 2017, identity theft affected 16.7 million victims and cyber-criminals stole $16.8 billion, according to a 2018 study by Javelin.[i] While identity theft is prevalent, if you take the right steps to protect yourself, you can avoid the most common traps.

From your e-mail inbox to your physical mailbox, you have plenty of tools at your disposal to keep potential identity thieves at bay. With a little preparation and self-education, you can avoid the worst identity and cyber-threats, and rest easy knowing your financial assets are safe.

Stay alert with e-mail

One of the most likely places to come into contact with bad players online is your e-mail inbox. Whether you are at work or at home, it is important to remain diligent and look out for red flags in any e-mail you receive.

Jamie Howard, Deputy Head of Fraud Risk Management and Investigations at UBS, says you should “never click on links in e-mails from organizations you don’t recognize.”

Ninety-one percent of cyber-attacks start with a phishing e-mail, according to a report by Cofense.[ii] But if you do open a suspicious e-mail accidentally, delete it right away and avoid clicking any further. You must never open the attachments, as that’s what lets the malware into your computer.

Monitor your mail and shred aggressively

While cybersecurity is an important way to prevent identity theft, you must remember the threat of physical paper, as well. In affluent neighborhoods, unlocked mailboxes allow thieves to easily steal your name, address and other identifying information. Consider a locked mailbox or make sure to pick up your mail right away when possible.

Additionally, take care to shred any documents with personal information before dropping them in the recycle bin. Depending on your social media use, a criminal may be able to line up your name and address with the information you post online for identity theft. To avoid an unattended mailbox, use a mail hold when traveling, a free service provided by the post office. You can set one up at your local post office or on the U.S. Postal Service website.

Don’t fall for phone scams

If your bank calls you, they won’t ask for your usernames, passwords, address or Social Security number. Unless you know the person on the other end of the phone, never give out any personal information.

Clever fraudsters may have some of your information already, which makes it seem like they are calling from a trusted company. Even if the caller ID says it is your bank, it may actually be a professional criminal across the world. Using a technique called “spoofing,” identity thieves are able to make your caller ID say whatever they want.

When in doubt, hang up and dial a published customer service number for the company. You can easily find a trusted customer service number on the back of your credit or debit card, a recent statement or a company website.

Stand up to identity theft and keep your information safe

When you take small steps and follow common sense, you can decrease your stress about potential identity theft. Make yourself a more difficult target by only working with reputable companies, keeping your information private when possible, consistently monitoring your bank accounts for unauthorized charges and staying alert to common threats and scams.

Though there are unfortunate situations in which falling victim can be out of your control, by remaining vigilant you can decrease these odds and take immediate actions when necessary. Through safeguarding yourself against a potential identity thief, you can rest easy knowing your personal and financial information remain in your hands alone.

Burish is managing director at The Burish Group at UBS Financial Services Inc. He can be reached at 608-831-4282 or by email at


[i] “2018 Identity Fraud: Fraud Enters a New Era of Complexity,” Javelin, February 6, 2018,

[ii] “Enterprise Phishing Susceptibility and Resiliency Report,” Cofense, 2016,

This article has been written and provided by UBS Financial Services Inc. for use by its financial advisors. In providing wealth management services to clients, we offer both investment advisory and brokerage services, which are separate and distinct and differ in material ways. For information, including the different laws and contracts that govern, visit UBS Financial Services Inc. is a subsidiary of UBS AG. Member FINRA/SIPC.