Identity Theft is a growing issue in this ever changing online world. A thief can steal your full name or social security number to commit fraud. You may not realize you are a victim until you experience a financial consequence such as denied loans, mystery bills or credit collections.
There are several types of ID Theft:
Tax ID Theft: Thieves can falsely file tax returns with the IRS or state government using a stolen social security number.
Medical ID Theft: Thieves can steal someone’s personal information, such as health insurance member number or Medicare ID cards to get medical services or issue fraudulent billing to the insurance provider.
Senior ID Theft: Thieves target seniors because they are in more frequent contact with medical professionals and can be more susceptible to online theft if they are not Internet savvy.
Child ID Theft: Children’s IDs are vulnerable as the theft can go undetected for many years. Unfortunately, the damage has already been done once the child reaches adulthood.
Social ID Theft: A thief uses your name, photos and other personal information to create a fake account on social media platforms.
It is important for consumers to be proactive in keeping their financial data private, especially when making purchases or conducting financial transactions online.
Here are important tips to avoid online identity theft:
- Make purchases on trusted sites only. Be wary of sites that seem to offer too-good-to-be-true deals. Use secure online payment processors such as PayPal and Google Checkout. Be sure to look for the padlock icon on the bottom of your browser to verify the page is safe.
- Order your credit report. This free service is available each year at www.annualcreditreport.com. It allows you to see whether someone has opened new accounts under your name.
- Know how to Spot Phishing. Phishing is a technique used by identity thieves to get your personal information by pretending to be a site you trust. It makes you think you are logging into your bank or credit card account, when in reality, it is a con artist at the ready. If you are not sure, these fake sites will ask for information you typically don’t need to supply such as social security numbers and addresses. Another way to know is to check the URL of the site to see if it is the true company site.
- Secure your Network. If you use a wireless network at home or work, make sure to secure it with a password. The router can be locked to encrypt your information. Note that hackers can gain access to anything you do over an unsecured network in a matter of seconds. Don’t store Sensitive Information on Non-Secure Websites. More and more sites have calendars and organizers so be sure you are not putting your personal information such as account numbers and passwords online unprotected where hackers can steal it.
- Don’t open Spam. Be leery of spam or junk email because it often contains viruses and that can get onto your computer. If possible, install spam-filtering software to cut down on the daily pile of junk email as well as keeping your data safe.
- Set Banking Alerts. Sign up for banking and credit card email alerts when reaching certain conditions (e.g. being near overdraft or having transactions over a certain amount). These notifications will alert you if there has been unauthorized access to your accounts.
- Don’t Reuse Passwords. It is good practice to use a different password for each account you have. This way, if a hacker does gain access to one password, they will not be able to access any of your other accounts or personal information. It may take organization to maintain all the passwords but they end result is a safer online presence.
- Use Optional Security Questions. It is a good idea to use security questions when logging into accounts for recovery purposes. Use questions that a thief wouldn’t know, such as your first pet’s name, color of your first car or street name where you grew up. This will increase your online account access security.
- Don’t Put Private Information on Public Computers. Make sure not to save personal information on a public computer and never choose to save login information, such as your user name and password. Also, be sure to log out completely from all accounts before you close out for the next person to use it.
Identity theft does not only happen online. Take these precautions when you are out in public:
- Secure your social security number and health insurance identification numbers. Don’t care your card or write your number on checks. Only give this out when absolutely necessary.
- Watch out for “shoulder surfers” who may be trying to steal your pin or password when you are using a debit card or computer in public.
- Collect your mail each day, and use the mail on-hold service if you are going to be away for more than three days.
- Review your receipts and compare with statements from credit cards, banking and healthcare accounts. Watch for unauthorized transactions
- Shred receipts, credit offers, account statements, expired cards and other mail that contains your personal information. This ensures it is securely destroyed.
- In the unfortunate instance, you are a victim of identity theft, there is help. Report it immediately to the FTC online or by phone at 877-438-4338. Visit www.identitytheft.gov to report it and get a personalized recovery plan. You will then receive an ID theft affidavit. You can take the ID theft affidavit to the local police to file the crime.
The Identity Theft Resource Center can be found at www.idtheftcenter.org or 888-400-5530.
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Bradley, Tony, CISSP-ISSAP, “Ten Tips to Prevent Identity Theft,” Lifewire.com, March 16, 2017.
“Identity Theft,” USA.gov, May 10, 2017.
“Ten Tips to Avoid Identity Theft,” Forbes.com, October 1, 2017.