Online Identity Theft
idtheftquiz.org Article copyright 2012
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Has the information you transmit online been intercepted by identity thieves? Recognize if it has and learn the best way to keep your online identity secure.
The Problem: Recent years have seen the Internet transform from hub of information to hub of commerce, and while this change has added convenience to our lives, it has greatly increased the chances that we will become victims of identity theft.
The Internet is such fertile ground for identity thieves because they can attack anyone, anywhere, at any time from as close as the next county or as far as the other side of the world. Online identity thieves are using sophisticated, yet readily available, programs to spy on an individual’s browsing habits, track their keystrokes, and lift their financial and personal information from retailers, banks, and other organizations. The Internet is a way of life, yet we must recognize that threats exist wherever we browse, and that taking the proper precautions is a necessity.
The Solution: Learn if you are at risk, minimize the risk, and counteract any identity theft that has occurred.
Action Step I: Am I at risk? Simply put, yes, we all are. Any time you go online, even for something as simple as checking the day’s headlines, you make yourself vulnerable to identity theft. Make a few purchases, check your account balance, or pay off a credit card, and the danger grows.
Action Step II: How can I protect myself? When online, only do business with reputable companies whose legitimacy you can confirm. Be sure that any page that asks you to enter personal information has “https” in the address bar (the “s” means secure) and a padlock icon at the bottom of the screen. Use passwords that are easy to remember, but hard for others to guess, and include a mix of letters, numbers, and special characters. Avoid passwords that reference your name, last name, birth date, or other personal information.
Avoid “phishing” scams, which generally come in the form of fraudulent e-mails pretending to be from banks, retailers, or government agencies. Don’t respond with any personal information unless you made the contact first. Keep your computer free of viruses, worms, and spyware, which are often designed to corrupt files and lift information. Sweep often and keep your anti-virus software up-to-date new viruses are developed everyday, and being prepared for the next threat is often the best defense.
Action Step III: What if my identity has been stolen? If you suspect someone has tampered with your identity, the first step is to call one of the three national credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion) to perform a credit check, and if necessary, enter a fraud alert. A fraud alert stays on your credit report for 90 days, which should give you enough time to close any compromised accounts, open new ones, and go through the proper channels to rectify the damage.
Don’t be dissuaded from shopping or banking over the Internet. Shopping and paying bills online is still much safer than mailing checks a Web site’s encryption code is much tougher to break than a paper envelope. While we may never be immune to identity theft, the more we acknowledge that it exists, and the more steps we take to protect ourselves, the safer we’ll be.
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