Identity theft happens when someone uses your personal information without you knowing about it. And the risks can be significant. When you do things like log on to a website, enter a contest, sign up for a social network or pay bills through online banking, you’re providing a wealth of information that can be stolen. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do these things – it just means you need to be smart and protect yourself.
WHAT AN IDENTITY THIEF STEALS
• Date of Birth.
• Mother’s maiden name.
• Passport information.
• Credit card information.
• Credit card number.
• Social Insurance number.
• Bank account number.
• Driver’s License
• Other personal identification numbers.
• Any other personal information they can benefit from.
Identity theft: keep your information to yourself
In just about every country around the world there are people who make a living stealing other people’s identities. In fact, identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the world and stories of computer hacking, viruses and scams appear in the news almost daily. And while it may seem like something that only happens to other people, identity theft can affect anyone – including you.
ONLINE IDENTITY PROTECTION TIPS
The easiest way to avoid identity theft is to prevent it from happening in the first place by observing these tips. Keep these tips in mind at all times to help keep you safe:
• Before you share personal information, consider carefully what you’re putting out there through email and social networking sites. Information like your cell number, address, hometown, workplace, status updates that let people know you’re away and other revealing details.
• If you’re asked for your personal information, find out how it will be used and why it’s needed.
• Don’t provide any more information than is required for a particular purpose.
• Choose strong passwords. Don’t use simple words or favourite names (like your child’s name or your mother’s maiden name). Try a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols. You’d be surprised how many people use easy-to-crack passwords like ‘12345′ or simply ‘password’.
• Change your password often and commit it to memory. Don’t keep it in your wallet, saved on your computer or on your mobile device.
• Never use automatic login features that save your username and password. Take the time to re-enter your password each time.
• Be extra careful about giving out your social security number or Tax Identification Number (TIN). It’s virtually a key to your identity and credit reports.
• Don’t use your credit card number online unless you know the company you’re dealing with is reputable and the website is secure.
• If you use webmail, make sure you are using a secure connection, a feature available from all of the major services.
• Use “2-step verification” to log on to web services, if this feature is available. Services using 2-step verification first ask you for a password and then verify your identity through a separate channel such as by a text message on your phone.
• Instead of setting up accounts with a name and password on multiple sites, use existing accounts whenever possible. You can log in to many services using your existing Facebook, Twitter, Google or OpenID account, so you don’t need to remember a new password or tell existing password to yet another site.
• Do not reply to or click on links in any email that looks suspicious. Never open an attachment from spam or sender not known to you. Make sure that you are using anti-spyware software and that it is up-to-date.
• Always be wary of emails from financial institutions, Internet service providers and other organizations asking you to provide personal information online. If in doubt, call the company directly and ask them to verify the email.
• Only make online purchases from companies you trust.
• Clear your cache after banking or shopping online to make sure personal information isn’t stored on your computer. Here are examples of how to do this:
In Firefox, go to Tools > Clear Recent History.
In Internet Explorer, Go to Tools > Delete Browsing History.
In Chrome, go to the wrench icon in the top right hand corner. Under the Bonnet > Clear Browsing Data.
• Never leave your laptop in the car or anywhere else where it could easily be stolen.
• Make sure you have a firewall and that it’s set to “on”, install or upgrade virus protection software, and turn off file sharing to keep information on your computer safe. If you’re not sure how, you may want to ask a professional to do these things for you.
• Keep in mind that Wi-Fi networks in public places like coffee shops, restaurants, libraries or airports are not secure. Never send personal information through public Wi-Fi and disable the connection when you’re not using it.
• Set up your home Wi-Fi network with an administrative password and other protective measures such as encryption. Avoid naming the network something identifiable to you – your phone number, address or family name.
• Before you sell or dispose of your computer or mobile device, completely wipe its hard drive to remove files, personal photos and all the information you have stored on it with overwrite software. You can buy overwrite software or have a professional do this for you. Even better, have the hard drive or device destroyed.
The more you know about how it can happen, the easier it is to protect yourself.