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Wednesday, September 21, 2022

How to Prevent Identity Theft

By Catherine Powell

Image courtesy Pixabay

If you're like most people, you value your privacy.  The problem is in this wired world of ours, privacy is hard to come by.  Cameras using facial recognition monitor your movements. Corporations mine the data you produce when you surf the web or send a text.  Government agencies monitor your phone calls.  Even your boss might be snooping on you when you use a company computer.  As bad as all that sounds, there's one invasion of privacy that trumps all of these by far.  That's when a cybercriminal steals your identity for financial gain.  Not only can this kind of crime result in a financial loss, it can also come to haunt you for years to come.  Below are ten ways you can help prevent identity theft.

#1: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize - In many cases when identity theft occurs, it takes a month or more before victims realize they've been had.  A month in real-time is like a year in cyberspace.  That's because 30-days is plenty of time to rifle a victim's bank accounts, apply for bogus credit cards, and sell their financial data to third parties.  By the time bills from credit card companies, finance companies, and other institutions alert you to the fact that someone other than you is using your good name, the damage that's been done can take a long, long time to fix.  That's why everyone should subscribe to a service that keeps track of their financial data to alert them the moment someone tries to cash in on their identity.  

#2: Consider Freezing Your Credit - All three credit reporting agencies will allow you to freeze your credit so a third party can't open any new accounts.  While this won't stop a crook from stealing what you've got, it will prevent anyone who steals your identity from opening new accounts.  Should you need to open an account yourself, all you have to do is call the credit bureaus and tell them to unfreeze your credit for 24-hours.  While this may seem a little inconvenient to some consumers, it's a heck of a lot less inconvenient than trying to unravel the mess that a cybercriminal can make of their life if a thief gains unfettered access to their good name.

#3: Don't Give Away the Keys to the Castle - It's easier than you think to compromise your financial information.  Any time you make a purchase online or via phone, do you know who you're giving your credit card number to?  Professional thieves use everything from clickbait and phishing attacks to clone sites that look like a trusted online vendor and dumpster diving to gain access to account information.  That means you need to be doubly careful before you disclose credit info, medical info, banking info, social security number, and any other financial data that can be used to rob you blind.  You also need to shred any correspondence that contains account numbers to prevent crooks from combing through your trash to cash in.  If someone calls you to ask you for financial information, don't comply unless you know who you are dealing with.  Don't fall for crank callers who purport to be with the police, the IRS, or some other government agency.  Guard your personal and financial data like your life depends on it.

#4: Do Not Pass Go - Another thing that you need to do is to make sure that all your security settings and passwords that you use online are secure.  if you still use the name of your dog as your password, you're looking for trouble.  That's because hackers can easily crack any password that's less than twelve characters long.  To be safe you should also include a few numerals and at least one special character if you expect to secure your online accounts.  The same thing goes for software that you fail to update regularly.  Most of the updates are published to fix known security holes.  If you run outdated software, you risk letting hackers in.  

#5: It Takes Two, Baby - Even the best password isn't 100% hack-proof.  Neither are most wireless communications.  The only way to bolster your security is to opt for a second layer of cybersecurity.  That means opting in for two-step authentication and installing virtual public networks on your web-enabled devices.  Many online portals and vendors are all too happy to allow you to have your account verified by sending you a text or an email to verify that you are the one who is accessing your account.  Likewise, it's fairly simple to install VPN software that will hide your IP address and encrypt your communications.

#6: Don't Be a Social Butterfly - Another place that hackers get oodles of personal information is by surfing social sites.  Even if you don't divulge financial data, some con artists are surprisingly good at using the info you do post online to talk vendors you do business with into giving them access to your account.  Others trawl the social nets looking for posts that tell your friends that you're out of town.  This in turn gives thieves an opportunity to break in to take what they want, including the financial data you no doubt have in your home.

#7: It's a Gas, Gas, Gas - Anytime you fill up at the gas station, make sure a credit card skimmer hasn't been surreptitiously attached to the pump. These can be used to snatch your credit card number and zip code.  The same thing goes at ATMs.  Thieves have been known to not only attach card skimmers to these devices, they've also been known to position pinhole cameras to capture your pin number when you key it in.  If you think it's easy to spot skimmers, think again.  Recently,  ATMs in Manhattan were found to contain super-thin deep-insert skimmers that are devilishly difficult to spot.  (Check out this article to learn more.) If you detect or suspect that a skimmer is being used on a gas pump or ATM machine, alert the manager immediately.

#8: Out of Thin Air - Believe it or not, savvy thieves can now steal your credit card info wirelessly.  That's because most cards today use RFID technology that's designed to allow you to transmit your card data to a chip reader.  Unfortunately, it also allows technologically savvy thieves to steal the card information as you walk by them, even if the card is in a wallet or purse.  The solution to this problem is to obtain an RFID-blocking sleeve or wallet that's designed to inhibit the card from transmitting a radio signal.

#9: Don't Be Caught Dead - Make sure you not only install and use anti-virus and anti-malware software, make sure it's kept up to date.  If you don't update these on a regular basis, or should you let the subscription lapse, don't be surprised if your device is soon crawling with malware or locked down by ransomware.  Unlike the movies where hackers stay up all night to crack passwords to infiltrate systems, modern hackers use botnets to do their dirty work while they spend their ill-gotten gains.  All these bots do are test for weaknesses that can be later exploited by their masters.  Don't make their job easier by failing to protect all your web-enabled devices.

#10: Don't Make Matters Worse - If you discover that your device has been compromised or your data has been stolen, don't make matters worse by playing into the thieves' hands.   Shut down the device, hang up on any suspicious caller, don't click on any links, even if they purport to help you solve the problem.  Then call your IT expert, banker, credit card company, and/or vendors to prevent the damage from escalating.  While you should contact the police to file a report, depending on the nature of the incident, they may or may not be able to help you.  That's because many cyberthieves operate in other countries where local law enforcement has no jurisdiction. If you subscribe to a credit monitoring service, this is the time to contact them.  If you have identity theft insurance, file a claim.  In short, do what you can to mitigate the breach.  Then follow up by monitoring your credit carefully in the weeks and months to come.

Catherine Powell is the owner of A Plus All Florida Insurance in Orange Park, Florida. To find out more about saving money on all your insurance needs, check out her website at

1 comment:

  1. Wow - these are excellent and comprehensive tips. I saw a TV news cast recently where they talked about ID theft but they only mentioned three of these tips.


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