Having your identity stolen can be a real nightmare. Here are some simple steps that can thwart identity theft online.
Identity theft can rock your world, and not in a good way. You could lose access to your financial accounts, or find yourself with a surprise lien on your house. You might even end up under arrest if someone commits a crime under your identity. What can you do to head off these alarming possibilities? Here are some simple tips that can help you stay ahead of the thieves. None of these will guarantee your safety against a thief who has targeted you personally, but most criminals go after the low-hanging fruit—those who fail to protect themselves. These ten tips can help make sure you, and your identity, aren’t easy pickings.
1. Shred, Shred, Shred
Never discard or recycle bank statements, bills, or any document that contains your personal information. Invest in a home document shredder, and use it. When in doubt, shred!
2. Secure Your Documents
You don’t need constant access to important documents like birth certificates, tax returns, social security cards, and so on. Keep those in a fireproof home safe. That’s a better choice than a bank safe-deposit box. Box contents aren’t insured, and banks have been known to drill out boxes and remove their contents without notice.
How about a lockbox for your digital docs as well? By using encryption software, you can ensure that a snoop who gains access to your computer won’t be able to read your sensitive documents.
3. Power Up Your Passwords
It’s true that a breach at any secure site could conceivably reveal your login credentials to thieves, but you can minimize the damage by using a different strong password for every secure site. Of course you’ll need a password manager to keep them straight.
4. Mum’s the Word
You do have to provide personal information when you want certain things, for example, a mortgage, or a new insurance account. At that time, though, you’ve initiated the process, and you’ve verified you’re dealing with a legitimate company. When a company contacts you asking for personal info, whether by snail-mail, email, or phone, zip your lip. If you feel the contact might be legitimate, ask for a way to contact them after you’ve done some investigating.
5. Don’t Be Fooled
It’s nice to get help from tech support for any computer problems you may have. Don’t be fooled, though, by supposed tech support agents who phone or otherwise contact you. Yes, they may claim that your computer is sending out viruses, and that they must clean it or you’ll be in trouble. They’ll come up with any wild story, but eventually they’ll start asking for passwords, or requesting remote access to your computer. Hang up.
6. Lock Your Phone
That smartphone in your pocket is an identity thief’s dream. It has your email, IM, social media, and other apps, probably logged in and available. It contains personal data galore, including all of your contacts. You absolutely must use a strong authentication method to lock the phone. A four-digit PIN is not enough, nor is a too-simple swipe pattern. Your best bet is biometric authentication, such as fingerprint or facial recognition like that offered by the iPhone X , backed by a seriously strong passcode.
7. Phishing Is No Phun
Getting a data-stealing Trojan installed on millions of computers is hard work. It’s much easier to simply trick victims into giving away their credentials. Phishing websites mimic banking and other sensitive sites, in hopes that some poor sap will enter his username and password. They may even redirect to the actual site. Don’t give your identity away. If you get an email apparently from your bank, don’t click any links. Instead, log on to the bank’s site directly. Look for a secure HTTPS URL and lock icon, and be sure the URL in the address bar is correct. And if your antivirus or browser flags a site as fraudulent, stay away!
Phishing is a problem in the workplace, too. In an attack dubbed spear phishing, malefactors craft extremely convincing emails, designed to fool employees or executives into giving away their passwords, or even transferring money into shady accounts. Stay alert when using your work email, too.
8. Install Protection
Every PC and laptop needs a powerful antivirus, or even an entire security suite. A few security suites include antitheft protection for laptops; there are also standalone utilities that can lock down a lost or stolen laptop and even help recover it. Security products for mobile devices tend to combine antivirus and antitheft. Android devices are particularly vulnerable, but any device can get lost or stolen, so install protection.
Don’t stop there; install a virtual private network, or VPN, as well. Your local security software protects your data on your own devices, while the VPN protects it as it travels the internet. Using a VPN also serves to hide your personal IP address, thereby preventing websites from identifying your location based on that address.
9. Avoid Oversharing
Sharing your posts and pictures with your circle of social media friends is fun, but you might be sharing with identity thieves if you’re not careful. It’s very important to correctly secure your social media. Check your privacy settings from time to time, as the social media services are fond of making changes.
10. Get Free Credit Reports
You’re eligible for one free credit report per year from the big three credit agencies. You can sign up for reports from TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian at www.annualcreditreport.com. Yes, the Equifax breach exposed personal data for 143 million Americans, but the company is still in business. Here’s a trick; don’t get them all at once. Get one at a time, four months apart. That will give you better coverage overall. Also consider signing up for the free, ad-supported Credit Karma service, which keeps a watchful eye on your credit score.
One more thought. You’ve surely seen advertistements that promise protection against identity theft. In truth, these services can’t really prevent identity theft, but they can be very helpful at dealing with the consequences. Consider exactly what identity theft protection services do (and don’t do), and then decide whether you’re willing to pay for the service.
You don’t have to totally change your life in order to protect against identity theft. Follow these ten simple tips and you’ll have a very good chance of thwarting theft.
While identity theft can happen to anyone, there are some things you can do to reduce your risk. If you think someone is using your personal information to open accounts, file taxes, or make purchases, visit IdentityTheft.gov to report and recover from identity theft. Looking for identity theft resources to share in your community? Visit ftc.gov/idtheft.
Protecting Your Identity
Active Duty Alerts
An active duty alert adds an extra layer of protection to the credit records of servicemembers while they are deployed.
Credit Freeze FAQs
If you’re concerned about identity theft, data breaches, or someone gaining access to your credit report without your permission, you might consider placing a credit freeze on your report.
How to Keep Your Personal Information Secure
Safeguard your personal information, whether it is on paper, online, or on your computers and mobile devices.
Identity Theft Protection Services
Describes identity theft protection services you can buy, and free and low-cost alternatives you can use to guard against identity theft, and recover if identity theft occurs.
Discovering Identity Theft
Here’s an overview of what to know and do about identity theft.
Place a Fraud Alert
A fraud alert can make it harder for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name. You can place a fraud alert by asking one of the three credit bureaus. It has to put the alert on your credit report and tell the other two credit bureaus to do so. The alert lasts one year.
Warning Signs of Identity Theft
Warning signs include credit or debit charges you don’t recognize, bills for accounts you didn’t open, and IRS notices that say you filed multiple tax returns.
Identity Theft: Specific Issues
Child Identity Theft
Here’s how to protect your child’s personal information against theft.
Do You Need a New Social Security Number?
You must report the misuse of your Social Security number. Now, should you get a new — or replacement — number or card?
Extended Fraud Alerts and Credit Freezes
Placing both extended fraud alerts and credit freezes on your credit reports can make it more difficult for an identity thief to open new accounts in your name.
Medical Identity Theft
An identity thief can use your personal information to get medical care or services. Find out how to respond.
Tax-Related Identity Theft
Learn to recognize and resolve tax-related identity theft.
Financial Readiness in Times of Disaster
You’ve got batteries, a tank of gas, and water. Are your financial papers and personal documents stored safely in case of an emergency?
Just because your child doesn’t have a Facebook account yet doesn’t mean he’s not at risk.
Children are up to 35 times more likely to have their identity stolen than adults, according to the Center for Identity at The University of Texas at Austin. And with 92% of teens going online daily, it’s no surprise that one in 40 households with kids had at least one child whose personal information was compromised during a 2012 survey. Here’s how to protect them — and your entire family.
If the little league team asks for your kid’s Social Security number, don’t feel like you have to give it to them. “Try calling and explaining that you do not wish to share that information and ask what other info you can provide instead,” says Ryan Anderson, the outreach program manager at the Center for Identity. “With very few exceptions — like government services, heath care, and insurance — most organizations do not need your child’s SSN, but request it because it is convenient for them.” If you absolutely have to give up the number, see if there’s a way to do it over the phone rather than online.
Web-surfing children need to know how g00gle.com can be different from google.com. “There are a lot of people who collect misspellings and create clone sites for the purpose of gathering information, which can then help them to commit identity theft,” says Adam Levin, founder of IDT911 and author of Swiped. To avoid unsafe sites, stress the importance of typing in URLs (rather than blindly clicking on links) and checking the spelling before logging any personal information.
Parents often disagree about how much to post about their kids and, at the end of the day, it really is a personal preference. Just beware of the risks: You could potentially become a target for a robbery, your kid’s photos could be taken and reused by a stranger, or info you post could even be used to facilitate a kidnapping. So skip that first day of class shot next to the school entry sign. “I was very protective of my son’s identity when he was younger,” says Tracy Gibb, the blogger behind Less Than Perfect Parents. “I never used his face on my blog or any social media sites because I was nervous some weirdo might take an interest in him.”
By disabling the location services on your cell phone, you’ll save battery power and you’ll make it harder for thieves to locate or track you. “If your picture is geotagged, that means someone with basic computer skills can click on the properties and get into the code to figure out where that picture was taken,” says Levin. Why give away your child’s school — or your home address — unnecessarily?
“Most children shouldn’t even have a credit score,” explains Anderson, “given that those scores are only issued by the three major credit bureaus when someone has applied for or received some type of credit.” (Think: student loans or credit cards.) With identity theft continuing to grow, the Center recommends that parents check their children’s credit history at least once a year to be safe. Then, if something comes up, you can have the credit bureaus freeze your child’s credit, which would prevent anyone from opening up more accounts.
It’s not enough to have a complicated password anymore — especially on websites that ask super simple questions in order to approve a password reset. Identity thieves can easily find out a pet’s name or a school’s mascot using social media. So when answering these questions, Levin has a trick: Lie. “When a site is looking for an answer to a security question, truth is not important. It’s about consistency,” he says. For example, if your maiden name is Brown, have your kid say it’s Orange.
And, while you’re at it, their email address. You don’t have to actually build them a website, but Levin says it’s smart to reserve those accounts for a few reasons. For one, they’ll have easy-to-remember URLs and emails when they’re ready. Plus, these accounts are reserved and can’t be used fraudulently. But you might need to wait until the early teenage years: “Most social media networks and email providers don’t actually allow you to create a profile for children under 13, unless you lie about their age,” says Anderson. “And that account could always be flagged as fraudulent and shut down.”
Sure, your kids know not to talk to strangers in public, but have you made it clear that the same rule applies online? “Unlike the physical world where there are some easily identifiable good strangers — such as law enforcement or firefighters — there is no such thing as a safe stranger online, where someone’s identity can easily be faked or concealed,” says Anderson. There’s no reason for them to accept friend requests from people they don’t know.
Why? It connects and exposes them to adults they don’t know — and makes all of their data vulnerable, argues blogger Jessica Gottlieb. “Before you friend a child, any child. ask yourself what it might achieve. If your child is under 13, they aren’t supposed to be on Facebook, but that’s not because of maturity or Facebook caring about childhood. It’s because Facebook buys and sells your data and it’s illegal to buy and sell data from children under 13,” she writes.
“If you can afford it, have your kids use a different device,” suggests Levin. “This way, if their device gets contaminated, your tax return and your bank information doesn’t go up in smoke or end up in a ransomed file.”
“Kids can become weapons of mass destruction in terms of online security,” warns Levin. “They can be giving out information that they don’t realize is personal, identifying info.” Explain that they should never share info about themselves, their friends, their family, their neighborhood, or anything that could be used to identify them. The Center even has a free game called Beat the Thief that will help educate kids on this very topic.
Scammers aren’t fussy about who they impersonate. In fact, the more obscure the victim the better as this means they are harder to detect. The fact of the matter is that with so much social content online these days, it is so easy for a scammer to assume your identity and you’d never even know about it. Therefore it is vital to protect your identity online. Fortunately this is easy to do.
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This article will show you how to secure your online accounts as well as applying common sense when disposing of sensitive documents. If you can safely protect your identity online you should never become a scammers persona.
Strong passwords and multi-factor authentication
Strong passwords have been touted for years but most people still do not use them. The problem with strong passwords is that they become hard to remember which makes them counter-productive if they need writing down. As a minimum, all passwords should contain a capital letter, a number and one non alphanumeric character. Each password should be unique to a particular site. Recycling passwords is a bad idea as it means once you are hacked, your entire online presence is compromised. Invest in a password manager such as LastPass to keep all of your passwords secure.
As well as a strong password, multi-factor authorisation (MFA) should be used where available. MFA requires you to enter a secondary piece of information, usually a 6 digit token which is sent to your phone (or via an app if you have one installed). You need both pieces of information before you can access the account. This means that knowing the password alone is now not enough.
We touched on privacy in one of my previous articles. This is one of the most important elements of protecting your identity online. If you don’t safeguard your information correctly, the scammer will be only too happy to steal it. Social media sites are the most common locations where scammers will look for information to steal.
For romance scams, Facebook and Instagram are ideal locations for scammers. These sites are used by young people who are quite happy to leave their profiles unlocked in the search for likes. Young people also seem to be in competition to see who can get the most friends. Scammers prey on this and most youngsters wouldn’t think twice about befriending a stranger to up their numbers.
It is important to set your profile to friends only as a minimum and in some cases, it needs to be even more secure. Create groups so that you are only showing relevant information to the right people.
Look out for phishing emails
As we have previously discussed, phishing emails are designed to look realistic. Their sole intent it to entice you to a fake website where you can enter all of your personal details. Being able to spot a phishing email is vital if you are going to protect your identity online and also offline.
Phishing emails will never address you by name. All of the information will be vague so be vigilant and never take any email at face value.
Subject specialists are not always special
Joining groups or forums is a great way to gain knowledge. Remember though that the person who is giving out all this information is not known to you. If they are communicating in the main channel then there shouldn’t be an issue as their advice is public. The moment this conversation switches to a private channel and personal information is requested, it is time to start being suspicious.
Always be wary of someone who wants to take you away from the mainstream communication and into a private channel. There may be a good reason for this but there are plenty of sinister reasons too.
Be careful with the rubbish
Although this isn’t an online safety tip it is important to shred all correspondence before you bin it. A scammer could quite easily go through a bin and get plenty of information to make your life difficult.
Take a bank statement for instance. As well as your name and address, they would also have you account number and a record of who your direct debits went to. This could be enough start a second life as you or even get credit in your name.
Use biometrics where possible
The 21st century person carries their life around with them on their smart device. Whilst this is convenient for communicating and staying in touch with the world, it presents a massive security problem. If you were to lose your device or have it compromised the outcomes would be severe. You could be impersonated, cloned or have your bank account emptied. Having a password on your device is no longer enough. All new smart devices allow biometric authentication which will allow you to log in with your fingerprint or iris. This technology is improving all the time and is already proven to prevent unauthorised access to your device.
Antivirus software is a must
Antivirus software is sadly an afterthought for a lot of computer users. Most PCs will come bundled with a trial of an antivirus product but once this expires, some people make the mistake of thinking that they are still protected. Buying a good antivirus solution will be the best money you spend in relation to your computer. Receiving regular updates and support if you get a virus is vital to protecting your online digital footprint. Without adequate protection, intruders could install malicious software which would compromise your security without you even knowing.
Protecting your identity online should be no different from physically protecting it. You wouldn’t give private information to a stranger on a night out so you should apply the same rules online. If someone asks for any personal information, question why they are asking for it. Putting a scammer on the back foot is usually enough to scare them away.
When Leonardo DiCaprio played famed conman Frank Abagnale, it awakened many to the glamour of the con. In the movie Catch Me If You Can, DiCaprio (as Abagnale) cons flight attendants by pretending to be a pilot, his future father-in-law by pretending to be a lawyer, and even his own father using a credit card scheme. In essence, the movie showed that identity theft work best when it is believable.
Hackers are after you because you are a believable identity. You exist. You are real.
Without the internet, Abagnale relied on traditional methods, but in today’s digital age protecting our identities takes on a whole new meaning. We are in need of a whole new layer of protection and even of reworking our idea of what comprises identity management. More than just our customer ID and home address, it is also our passwords, face shape, location data and app usage. It requires an active effort to guard these aspects of identity, which are so much more intimately connected with our behavior and daily lives. In this age of intense sharing – our names, birthdays, addresses, weekend plans, shopping lists – identity as a proxy for scams has never been more tangible.
Don’t let a hacker become you
Our transparency has become our biggest weakness, as the ability to take the form of another person – real or fake – permeates our lives. All it takes is the click of a link in a phishing email, the oversharing of one critical piece of information, or the leak of one reused password that allows a scammer to fly under the radar using someone else’s persona.
How do we both embrace our digital identities and protect them?
Take a zero trust approach
Zero trust is a concept that has taken hold in the cybersecurity community. It may be the buzzword of the decade, and you’ve probably heard it a million times. The fact of the matter is this: you can’t really trust anyone.
In your business, that should be the baseline at this point, but it’s high time we all start adopting this as our personal baselines for protecting our identities. Before giving anyone access to your information, verify that they are who they say they are. Please confirm that your information won’t be shared with people you didn’t intend to share it with. Your data is currency, quite literally if it ends up being sold on the Dark Web, and in the wrong hands can cost you in more ways than one.
Think before you click
Worldwide, email scams are costing businesses and consumers well over $12 billion annually, according to the FBI. This number is a testament to how a simple link click can have a tidal wave effect. Because so many parts of our digital lives are connected, access to one small part of an identity can allow malicious actors to access your other logins or accounts, that allow hackers to slowly build up a full identity profile that helps them impersonate you very convincingly.
The best course of action to foil phishing attempts is to scrutinize every email you get to hover over links before clicking and don’t enter information into forms without being sure that you’re not handing over the keys to your digital identity in the process. Phishing emails are not slowing down either. A few months ago, a phishing simulation conducted by a Verizon DBIR contributor found that out of
16,000 people, almost three times as many people not only clicked through a phishing link, but also provided their credentials to the simulated login page. The fake emails contained information about the coronavirus. Tapping into fear about any world events is a common trojan horse scammers use, but it can happen to anyone at any time.
A top phishing expert once fell for a phish because he is a champion Amazon shopper and was tired when the email came in and legitimately thought this credit card was declined. Long story short, it wasn’t, and he had to do A LOT of damage control in a short amount of time. Even if you are tired, even if you think it is secure, repeat this mantra after me: think before you click.
Much like we protect ourselves from the risks of the physical world elements with layers, protecting yourself from being a target in the first place is vital. Making things harder for scammers means you are less likely to feel the shockwave of consequences if you do somehow fall victim to a scam. Those layers include keeping your software up to date, using two-factor authentication, and merely slowing down and thinking before acting. The other key to this is to think like a snake: shed your old skin. What we mean by this is take a shredder, or if you don’t have one use scissors, and tear your old sensitive documents to pieces.
These days, it takes little effort to believably shape-shift into another person, as the costume and theatrics are mostly no longer necessary. And so, it has never been more critical than right now to see identity as the agent of our futures, the future of our businesses, and then, protecting it fiercely. Make Frank Abagnale proud. He now works for the FBI—he traded his black hat for a white one.
Having a productive and safe online digital life is important for you and your family to get the most from online experiences. Whether you love to shop, seek out new information or keep in touch with friends on social media, protecting your private information from viruses, spyware and hackers in the digital age should be a top priority.
Here’s our 8 tips to help keep your personal information safe and avoid any nasty online surprises:
- Avoid clicking on links or attachments: Cybercriminals do a good job of tricking people into clicking on links supposedly from their bank, telecom operator, electric or gas company, tax service and other legitimate organisations. Think before you click – spelling errors, email addresses that don’t seem right, and out-of-the blue communications from friends should be treated with utmost caution. It’s better to manually enter the URL of the organisation in question to log into your account to verify any communications before clicking. In doubt, call the organization or your friend to verify before clicking.
Passwords are the keys to your digital kingdom: Use unique, complex passwords with a combination of lower and upper-case letters, numbers and symbols and do not use the same password across your accounts. Feeling frazzled to remember them all and keep your accounts safe? Use Norton Identity Safe to help protect your accounts with sophisticated, unique passwords, without the headache of remembering which password to use across your accounts.
Keep your identity safe. Don’t share passwords or choose one that can be easily guessed. Make sure to change them often. And where possible, use two-factor or strong authentication which combines something you know (username and password) with something you have (a credential such as a card, token or mobile phone) to verify an identity or verify a transaction.
Keep all software on your PC up-to-date with the latest updates and patches – by keeping your software up-to-date, potential vulnerabilities (including zero-days) can be patched and help keep cybercriminals and hackers at bay.
Verify the web site you are on is safe – before entering your payment details into any web site, check that the URL begins with https – the “s” stands for “secure.” If a site has obvious typographical errors, or no evidence of security information or recognised symbols, avoid it. If in doubt, click on the VeriSign tick to verify a site’s identity, and if possible use a high security web browser that displays the green EV SSL address bar.
Keep these tips and suggestions in mind as you enjoy the best parts of the digital world and know your devices and the information on them are safe from threats. The best way to get ahead of the bad things online is to participate in your own Internet security. Educate your family about the threats out there and use trusted security software to help secure what matters. When more of us stay protected together, attackers will have fewer targets to take advantage of.
Tips for Ensuring Your Personal Information Stays Secure
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For all its convenience, online shopping—through websites or apps—comes with risks. Identity theft is increasing in frequency as imposters collect personally identifiable information available for sale by hackers. Credit card fraud is another risk. Staying safe while shopping online is paramount, and knowledgeable shoppers know the best approaches.
Choose Credit Over Debit
You probably don’t often hear advice to use a credit card instead of a debit card or cash, but if you can do it responsibly, you absolutely should. Unlike debit cards, credit cards offer protection from identity theft. For example, with a credit card, your liability for fraudulent charges caps at $50 as long as you report the fraud within 30 or 60 days, depending on the company. However, if you’re using your debit card online and someone gains access to it, they can clean out your checking account before you even learn there’s a problem. It’s likely you’ll get part of that money back, but it’s also possible it can take a while, or you won’t get it all. This can set off a spiral of financial woe—bounced auto pays, checks, penalties, and fees. So, use a credit card instead and pay off the bill monthly.
Use Disposable Prepaid Credit
Even better than using a credit card is to use a disposable credit card, which is also called a prepaid credit card. Disposable credit cards work like most gift cards. Add a specified dollar amount to the card, and it’s good until that amount is gone. Once the card has a zero balance, you can add more money to it, or purchase a new card. Visa and American Express both offer these cards in varying amounts, so they’re easy to purchase. If the account number from a disposable credit card is stolen, it’s anonymous, so criminals can’t gain access to anything more than the cash value that’s left on the card.
Verify Website Security
Technology has advanced to where most online websites offer secure shopping. But if they don’t, savvy criminals can capture everything you enter into a form on those sites, including your personal data and credit information. Limit yourself to secure sites. You can tell if a site is secure by the URL. A secure website address starts with https:// instead of http://. Secure sites also have a small lock icon to the left of the URL.
Don’t Shop on a Shared Device in Public
Do your online shopping at home on your computer or smartphone. At home, you know who accesses the device. If you’re using a public computer or network to do your shopping—at the library, an internet café, or at work—you have no control over who also might be using that device or network. Nor can you control what kind of spyware or malware might be infecting that computer. Therefore, it’s much safer to shop at home where you know both the device and your network are secure.
Don’t Store Information Elsewhere
Many shopping sites, such as Amazon.com’s OneClick shopping, offer the ability to save your credit card information on their servers to speed up the shopping process. It’s definitely faster, but there are some risks to maintaining your personal information elsewhere. If a company you shop with has a data breach, your personal information could be put at risk. It takes a little longer, but instead of storing your information on a server over which you have no control, just enter it yourself each time you shop.
Price and selection are two of the best benefits of shopping online. But don’t let the benefits lull you into complacency. Take the time to shop securely, and use caution with the sites where you choose to shop. Then, not only can you find great deals, you can do it without fear your identity will be stolen in the process.
The internet has made our lives so much easier and much more entertaining. However, it also puts us at risk every time we log on. Internet fraudsters are everywhere and they’re constantly looking at ways to steal your data. So, how exactly can you protect your identity online?
Here, you’ll discover some of the best tips to help you protect your online identity.
Protecting yourself on social media
Social media has become an integrated part of most of our lives. Offering the opportunity to keep in touch with friends and family, while also enabling us to interact with strangers, there are many ways your identity could come under fire when using social media. So, how can you protect yourself?
A simple way to protect your identity, is to make sure you only add friends that you actually know. You should also change your settings to “friends only” so that any posts you create are completely private. Finally, avoid putting anything too personal on social media sites such as phone numbers and addresses.
Be wary when paying online
Arguably one of the best things to come out of the internet is online shopping. With the convenience and variety of products found online, it’s no wonder that 51% of consumers prefer to shop online than visit in-store. However, this can lead to possible threats to your bank’s security. When buying online, make sure you always pay using a secure network. Don’t attempt to make payments over a free wi-fi for example, as you never know who else has access to this line of information. Similarly, never save your credit or current account card details on your computer. It might be easier than reaching for your wallet every time you want to pay but saving this information to your browser can leave you vulnerable if your laptop is lost or stolen. These few careful decisions can make all the difference to your online shopping habits.
Avoid clicking on email links and attachments
Finally, one of the most common ways people are stung by online fraud, is by clicking on email attachments and links. Unless you know with 100% certainty that the email is sent by someone you trust, you should never click any links or attachments. These often take you to pages requesting your banking information, where fraudsters will quickly steal your details and wipe out your bank account.
These are just some of the best ways to protect your online identity. Being careful about what you share and who you share it with is especially important. It’s also worth having different passwords for different sites. The more careful you are, the safer your details will be.
How To Protect Your Identity Online
Surfing the Internet is a daily occurrence for an increasing number of people these days, as technology expands and online services continue to grow. Many people go online to carry out banking transactions, shop, check e-mail, and catch up on news. That’s why it’s more important than ever to protect your identity while surfing the web. As identity theft becomes more prevalent, it’s necessary for everyone to be extra vigilant in protecting personal information – before it gets into the wrong hands.
Every time you go online and conduct some type of transaction, whether it is monetary or an exchange of information, you put your identity at risk. Unfortunately, criminals use the Internet too, making use of the technology to perpetrate identity theft. This type of cyber-criminal gathers personal information online and either sells it to others for profit, or uses it to his/her own purpose.
Luckily, there are many things you can do to stay one step ahead of these “bandits” and keep your identity as safe as possible. The Internet landscape is always changing, so you need to keep on top of things if you want to remain as safe as possible.
The first thing you need to do is learn how to avoid phishing scams. Phishers use fake e-mails and websites to pretend they are actual, trustworthy companies and institutions, such as banks and insurance companies. When people receive a fake e-mail or are directed to a counterfeit website, they are tricked into revealing passwords, credit card numbers, and other such information. Be warned: the criminals are good at what they do, so you must be very careful when dealing with e-mails from your bank or other organization. The key thing to remember is that real institutions never ask you to verify personal information online – be cautious and contact the sender directly, over the phone, to authenticate the request and, if necessary, provide any information they might actually require.
Because many phishers use spam e-mail as a way to obtain your personal passwords and information, install a good spam filter to keep out as much spam as possible. If you strain out most of the problem e-mails from the get-go, you won’t have to worry about dealing with too many suspicious messages on your own. Also, avoid sending any sensitive information via e-mail or instant messengers. Scam artists are notorious for intercepting e-mails and IMs. Use common sense when dealing with e-mail as well. For instance, avoid opening e-mail or IM attachments that you deem suspicious. Only open files from someone if you know the sender and what they are sending you.
And NEVER send your social security number over the Internet. No one should be requesting it, but if you are asked for it, confirm who is requesting it and send it directly to that person.
Another great way to prevent ID theft is by password protecting all your computers, laptops, and PDAs. For each item, come up with a unique user name and password. The same rule should be followed when selecting passwords for any online activity. Why? If one password is discovered by an individual with ill intentions, and all your bank accounts, credit cards, and other private logins use the same password, he/she could gain access to everything. When selecting passwords, create them with letters, numbers, special characters, and make up nonsense character strings not found in the dictionary. These will be much more difficult to decipher by a potential scammer.
Keep the amount of personal data present on your computer to a minimum. In the event that your computer is hacked or your laptop is stolen, you will be much less prone to ID theft because you won’t be giving the thief much to work with. Another good idea is to install a personal firewall program. Although systems such as Windows already contain a basic firewall program, setting up another program will ensure that your computer is hidden from hackers, stop intruders from reaching sensitive information, and let you control Internet traffic.
Purchase antivirus software and keep it updated. A high-quality virus protection package can help prevent and eliminate viruses, Trojan horses, and other dangerous items designed to steal your personal information. It will also scan e-mail and IM attachments for viruses.
In addition to antivirus software, be sure to equip your PC with the latest in anti-spyware protection. Although a great many of the spyware programs out there simply monitor your online actions for the purposes of marketing, some have been created for malicious reasons, including keystroke logging and, of course, identity theft.
One last tip: when you decide to update your computer and throw away or sell your old one, remember to remove all your data from the hard disk. Many people mistakenly believe that simply deleting files makes them disappear – but this is not the case. When you delete files they are still present on your hard drive, and have to be erased prior to handing the machine over to another person. Software known as wipe programs or shredders can be used to overwrite data with zeroes or random patterns making it completely unreadable.
It’s well worth the effort to take the precautions necessary for keeping your personal information under lock and key. Trying to clean up the mess left behind by an identity thief can take years, and will cause you a headache or two. So take charge and protect your personal information, using common sense and a few good tech tools to keep the cyber-thieves at bay.