Note: This is part 1 of 4 in a series of posts on identity theft protections and how to safeguard your personal and financial information. Subscribe to our blog and be alerted when the next article is posted.
If you become a victim of identity theft, it could be a nightmare. It might take you hours of effort, even months or years in extreme cases, to satisfy creditors, restore your record, and reclaim your rightful credit rating.
Identity theft is defined as the fraudulent appropriation and use of a person’s identifying or personal data or documents. Your name, address, social security number, driver’s license number, date of birth, and account numbers – really, anything that could be used to set up accounts or make purchases – are very valuable to thieves… and very vulnerable. Even wary consumers can easily become victims, but it still pays to be wary since the hassle increases with how much, how widespread, and how long ago the fraud was committed.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as Ben Franklin suggested. In this case, an ounce of prevention might save you many pounding headaches. Here are some suggestions to help you safeguard your information. There’s a lot to think about with identity theft, so we’ll have several posts on it.
Email Dangers and Precautions
You’ve seen the email from the Nigerian prince who really needs your personal help getting his fortune out of the country, right? You’ll make a lot of money while being a good Samaritan! Just send him your account information, and he’ll transfer the money right over…
But this email, and many like it, must be poorly translated, because what he actually means to say is that he would gladly transfer all your money OUT of your account. Give him half a chance, and that’s a sure bet.
Oh, and he’s not a prince.
How about the one where your friend is in desperate trouble while traveling in another country? They were robbed and they need your help to get back to this country, but they’re too embarrassed to call, so they emailed. The email account from which it was sent looks legitimate…
Well, it isn’t. This, too, is a common email deception.
Then there’s phishing: You get an email from your bank or some other company with which you do business. They need to update their records or confirm your account, so they ask you to click a link or fill in a form. The site looks like your institution’s site. You fill in your name, account number, date of birth, social security number, password…
And you’ve just handed over everything an identity thief could want.
Identity thieves are creative! Stay safe – NEVER give out account numbers (or any personal information) in response to an email. It’s that simple.
Ensure Your Online Transaction is Secure
Transactions online have become a lot safer, but plenty of vulnerabilities still exist.
Never make a purchase or put financial information online without first verifying that you are on a secure site. You can look for any of several indicators, including “https://” starting the site address (URL), a padlock in place of your browser’s normal address icon, trusted certificates (your browser may tell you a certificate is invalid), and trusted third-party confirmation of security (like VeriSign). Sites that are secure usually show it off in several ways.
The best policy: if you’re not sure, stop the transaction! That knick-knack you’re thinking of purchasing just isn’t worth it.
Be Careful on Social Media
Facebook is a thief’s dream come true. Users are endlessly posting their identifying personal information (full date of birth, parents’ names, maiden names, favorite teams, schools, hometowns, or even full addresses and phone numbers), which can then be mined to break password protection on financial sites. It’s also popular to brag about that new giant-screen TV, and soon thereafter, mention an upcoming vacation or tag your current location away from home. This is all incredibly useful information for a thief, who can now break in with impunity, get that TV, and grab your bank account information for good measure.
Thieves – and especially identity thieves – are tech savvy. If your friends on Facebook are really your friends, they probably don’t need you to post all that stuff to know who you are.
And if they aren’t, do you really want to invite them to use your identity?
All this should get you started thinking about the security of your identity, but we’ve hardly begun. We’ll talk about more ways to watch out for identity theft in the next post, so keep an eye on us!