5 Things That Could Save You From Identity Thieves
Identity Theft: It Could Be HAPPENING TO YOU RIGHT NOW
Identity Theft has become more prevalent in our society because we’re more comfortable sharing our information online. Because of that, every individual or business is vulnerable to theft when it comes to sensitive information. Recent cyber attacks on department store chains and celebrities’ smartphones should remind you that it is very easy to put information online, but it is very difficult to get that information back. So while putting that cute picture of your cat Lady Whiskers online is probably fine, posting your address might be something that you want to avoid.
Some stuff might seem trivial, but all it takes is a little information for a scammer to start on the path of stealing your information. In fact, 15 million Americans suffer from identity theft every single year (that’s 1 out of every 20 Americans)! That’s a lot of cyberlooting. So how do you stop it?
One Weird Trick To Stop Cyber Thieves: Be Vigilant
No, not vigilante — you can be a smart consumer without going all Clint Eastwood. First, you should NEVER carry around your Social Security Card. Keep it in a safe place along with other important documents. The same goes for your credit/debit cards’ PINs (personal identification numbers) — if you must write them down, keep it in a safe (preferably locked) location. And never give your PIN over the phone or via email: a request like that is a telltale sign of an identity thief.
You should also pay attention to your finances, something that I know we don’t think about that much. Keep all important receipts, shred unwanted ones, and check your bank accounts often. Is it boring and tedious? Maybe. But having your identity stolen is so much worse.
If Your Identity Does Get Stolen: Keep Calm And Carry On
Worst case scenario, let’s say you follow all my great advice and still fall victim to identity theft. (And it can happen, over 3.6 million taxpayers had their identities stolen when the South Carolina Department of Finance was hacked in 2012.) What should you do?
First, remain calm. Throwing your computer out a window and breaking it apart like the printer from Office Space might seem like a good idea, but remember the thieves are not living inside your machine. What you should do is act quickly to minimize the damage to your finances. If your credit card numbers have been stolen, contact the card companies immediately to prevent any future fraudulent purchases. Next, contact one of the three major Credit Reporting Agencies (Experian, Equifax, or Trans Union) who can place fraud alerts on your credit reports. You should also contact the FTC who can help you file the appropriate reports that can protect you from further fraud.
Plenty of Phish in the Sea
If cyber crimes were cookies, then phishing would be chocolate chip: the criminals’ favorite. Phishers lure Internet users onto a website (like a lure to a fish, get it?) and once they’re on the hook (har!) download a virus that steals online information (particularly card numbers) and forward it to the thief’s remote server.
The best way to avoid phishers is to not “bite” the lures. (Trust me, you really aren’t the one millionth visitor to a website.) You should also keep your computer browser up-to-date, and never give your personal information to a site you don’t trust.
What’s The Big Picture?
Cybercrime never sleeps, and it’s difficult to stay ahead of the bad guys. Each year, the number of cyber crimes increases, and the government is starting to take steps against identity theft. Federal agencies like the FBI or CIA often track down the bigger perpetrators and prevent the criminals from causing more harm. Some in Congress are also attempting to pass new legislation that will force corporations to get better security and delete personal information after a certain date.
Regardless of what happens, it still stands that we consumers have to use our own prevention methods. You are the first line of defense, so be prepared!