The Federal Trade Commission estimates that more than 10 million people were victims of identity fraud last year. However, consumers can take simple proactive steps to protect themselves and their families from being among the many victims of online fraud. Here are a few tips and tricks to help you protect yourself from identity theft.
How To Protect Yourself From Identity Theft- Top 10 Tips
Statement Double Check
All year round, we are vulnerable to identity theft and credit card fraud but with so many transactions taking place over the holiday season, we may be especially vulnerable. It is extra important to double check our credit card statements this time of year. Honest mistakes could have been made, but the holidays are also the perfect time for shady characters to steal your identity and rack up credit card bills that you don’t want to be on the hook for. Sometimes credit card theft may be blatantly obvious but often smart criminals will try to go unnoticed with many smaller amount purchases so that they don’t stand out. Look at each charge on your credit card statement to see if you actually made purchases at the location, on that date, and in that amount. Reviewing your credit card statement to ensure accuracy may save you big bucks both in correcting any incorrect charges and to protect yourself from identity theft.
Checking your credit and debit card statements may seem a bit overwhelming, but it is an important first step in identifying potential misuse of your information. If you notice an unfamiliar charge this may mean that your information is in the hands of a criminal. Contact your credit card company immediately to notify them of any unfamiliar charge.
Tax Season Awareness
Another time of year that identity thieves love is tax season. They know important paperwork is in the mail/email, so they are looking for this paperwork that contains a lot of personally identifiable information. Once the identity thieves get this information, they are able to file your taxes on your behalf and manipulate the numbers to ensure that THEY get a big refund. You don’t want to be a battle with the IRS. To protect yourself from identity theft, try to keep this important paperwork safe by using only secure internet connections and checking your mail on a timely basis for important documents.
Clean Personal Information from Social Networks
Whether it’s info within your profile, tweeting, posting to your wall, or sharing with your network, never disclose personal information such as a date of birth, personal address, or maiden name because identity thieves friend as many people as possible and join networks solely for the purpose of harvesting information to use to commit identity theft.
Always Create Complex Passwords
When creating passwords for making purchases online this holiday, use upper and lower case characters and numbers. Use at least seven characters and don’t choose a word from a dictionary. Only save them in your web browser if your browser uses a master password to secure them (e.g., Firefox Master Password). Even social networking sites are becoming forms of our digital identity. A common scam is for hackers to log in to an unsecured account as you and post that you are in trouble and need money wired to a designated account.
Don’t Download Just Any App
Smartphones are already very common, and will be a popular gift this season. Many apps and games can be downloaded and some have very compelling descriptions that sound fun and exciting. Read the comments posted by other users and ensure the app location is used by many people who think it is trustworthy. Review the application’s permissions to determine if it accesses other parts of your phone or location-based data.
Regularly Update Your Computer’s Software
Software companies update their software to protect you against known ways to hack into your computer. Before starting your online gift-purchasing marathon, upgrade to the latest version of your Operating System (e.g., Windows or Mac, etc.), web browser (e.g., Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari, etc.), and multimedia apps such as Flash and Quicktime. These updates are free and easy to install.
The “padlock” icon that you may have seen when shopping online identifies the connection as secure. Never enter personal information on a site that does not show up with a secure connection either in your address bar or the bottom right corner of your browser. Unsecured communication can be stolen on the way to its destination and also leaves behind an unsecured cache of the data transmission on your computer.
Avoid Phishing Attacks
Identity thieves spam year round, but especially during the holiday season. Users should be on the lookout for e-mails that look legitimate and purport to save you money or confirm a purchase. Never click links provided in e-mails. Copy the web address to your browser and check to make sure it is taking you to the company with which you intend to do business.
Never Give Personal Information to Customer Service over “Live Chat”
You might have questions on gifts you want to buy or a potential post-holiday return. In any situation in which a company requests your personal information to continue a discussion, always request a contact number for phone communication. This sensitive data can be logged by the agents on the other end and used for malicious purposes.
Disable and Avoid Peer-to-Peer File Sharing
The FTC recently concluded a study that found over 100 companies shared personal information about their customers over peer-to-peer file networks and urged them to change their security policies to prohibit this type of behavior. You can further prevent these types of breaches by removing P2P software from your own computer. If you insist on using it, ensure that you are not sharing any of your folders, as hackers and malcontents can quickly make off with unassuming tax documents and chat logs that contain your sensitive data.
Do Not Trust “Scareware”
This year has seen a large rise in the number of “fake” virus and spyware scanners that are in fact malware. Do not click on advertisements claiming you might be infected with a virus – these are tricks in order to get you to download trojan products. No popup will ever be able to actively scan your system without your explicit permission, so ignore them at all times and trust or upgrade your current security software.
Professional Identity Theft Protection
The above ways to protect yourself from identity theft are a great starting point. However, if you want to ensure protection before something goes wrong, you may want to check out the services of of personal identity theft protection agencies. Many of these, such as LifeLock, can help restore your identity if you find there was some breech.
I hope you find these tips on how to protect yourself from identity theft useful. Don’t forget to review your credit card statement to ensure both accuracy and keep an eye out for your important papers this tax season. How do you protect yourself from identity theft? Have you ever lost your purse or had your wallet stolen?