Identity theft is fast becoming one of the most common crimes in America. I know this sounds like something from a bad science fiction movie plot – the evil scientist bumps up against you one day and steals some scrapings from your skinsHot. With those few dead cells and bits of hair, he is able to create a clone. Using recordings stolen from your brain (while you sleep, of course) he programs the close with you memories …
The truth is much more mundane. You want to apply for a job. You send the resume as an attachment in email. Normally a resume contains quite a bit of personal data about yourself. An identify thief could easily get from this most of the data he needs to, say, purchase a car in your name.
Or perhaps you receive an email saying “rebuild your credit. Visit our web site and apply”. Sounds good, so you visit and enter your birthday, birthplace and social security number. Guess what, the site was created by a hacker and the thief now has everything he needs to obtain credit in your name.
Or, more commonly, you simply throw away your credit card receipts or other personal data into the trash can. A person simply wandering around the city dump could grab this kind of data and … well, you get the idea.
The point is simple … identity theft is the illegal use of information about you to obtain something in your name. A person actually pretends to be you. This could be as simple as getting a credit card or two (and spending them, of course, leaving you with the bill), or as complicated as creating an entire new you to purchase a house, stocks, bonds, credit cards or whatever is desired. Your good credit is used to the limit. When it’s gone the thief stops and moves on to another victim.
How To Protect Yourself From Identity Theft
How do you protect yourself from this?
- Shred your receipts and other documents when you throw them away
- Don’t email your personal data unless you use PGP or something similar
- Be very careful when giving information on unknown web sites, especially ones found in SPAM.
- Never respond directly to an email from “support” or some such.
- What you do when you get an email from, say, Microsft technical support asking you to visit thus-and-such web site is look up Microsoft’s phone number yourself (don’t use the one in the email). Call them directly and ask them if the email is legit. They will almost always tell you it is not. DO NOT TRUST THE EMAIL.
- Use credit cards with small limits to make purchases on the internet.
- Never ever use a debit card to make purchases on the internet
- Do not give out your checking account information on the internet (unless it is directly on the banks web site).
- Make sure every transaction is over a secure link (you see a lock in the browser somewhere or the prefix https:).
- Assume your emails are going to be read by a thousand strangers
- Do not post anything personal at all in newsgroups
- Consider making a fake, online identity with false address, phone numbers and so on and using a “free” email account.
- Always audit your credit card and bank receipts carefully. Get unexplained charges explained.
- Get yourself a free identity theft shield by locking your credit reports and only unlocking it when you need it to be accessed. All of the credit bureau’s support this.
- If you are a member of AARP. look into AARP Identity Theft Protection.
Build in good habits such as these to protect your credit, improve the security of your finances and keep a malicious thief from causing you harm.