Identity theft is a form of stealing a person’s identity and pretending to be that person to gain access to resources, obtain credit and other benefits in that person’s name.
The personal information that is used can be obtained by:
1. Rummaging through trash and rubbish for personal information from statements and invoices
2. Retrieving personal data from IT equipment including PCs, mobile phones, servers, USB memory sticks and hard drives that may have been disposed of carelessly or sold
3. Stealing information such as bank or credit cards, identification cards, passports, through pick pocketing ,mail theft or housebreaking
4. Stealing personal information from computers by breaching browser security, through spyware or malware
5. Hacking of computer networks and databases to obtain personal data
6. Impersonating trusted organizations to cheat victims to disclose their personal information through emails, phone calls or other forms of communication.
7. Befriending strangers on social networks then taking advantage of their trust to get private information.
8. Mail that is sent from banks or institutions, and even new credit card offers which contain valuable personal information can be stolen from your mailbox.
Best things you can do to prevent identity theft are:
> Maintain computer security by keeping your operating system and web browser security up to date against known security vulnerabilities as well as running antivirus software. Have an updated firewall and anti-spyware program. However, if you are not sure what is the best one for your computer, you should contact your local computer retailer.
> Do not give out personal information like your identification number and social security number on the phone, fax or on any social media platforms.
> Buy a shredder and keep it at home then use it to destroy any tax related documents especially if the tax time is over. The ones you still need should be kept in a safe under lock and key. Bills, credit card statements, ATM receipts, mail for mortgages and credit cards as well as medical statements should all be shred once you are through with them. Make sure your shredder does not create strips of paper which may be pieced back together. If you cannot get a shredder, then, tear the papers into small pieces. Place half of the remains in one rubbish bag and the other half in another different rubbish bag.
> Avoid carrying your bank cards, passports, social security cards as well as identification cards unless it is necessary. Always keep them in a safe and secure place.
> When making financial transactions through your cards, only use secure websites that you can trust. Do not go to a site from a random email and begin purchasing. Instead, go to a site through a known URL. If possible, have a separate credit card just for online purchases. This is because if something bad happens to your card like identity theft, it will be easy to cancel it.
> Regularly request for a credit history from your credit bureaus. This will help you identify any charges, purchases or any other entries on the statement that are legitimate and match up with your records. You will also be able to identify and address any suspicious activity which may be done through identity theft. You can also place a fraud alert, which is attached to your credit report from all major credit bureaus. With this in place, when there is an attempt to open a new line of credit by you or someone else, the lender will contact you.
> You can unsubscribe to some of the mail that you do not need which comes through your mailbox so that you reduce the amount of mail you receive
> Avoid keeping your personal information on your hard drive, especially if your laptop or computer is connected to the Internet. This can easily be retrieved by anyone using your computer.
> Choose passwords and PINs that are hard to guess and will protect your information. Use the following guidelines for passwords:
1. Do not use the same password no matter how convenient, for all of your accounts. Choose different passwords for your different accounts. This also applies to any type of online registration that will require a password.
2. Avoid passwords and PINs like dates of birth, numerical sequences that are common, phone number, digits of your identification cards and social security number.
3. Good passwords should be a mixture of capital and small letters, characters and numbers, and should be at least 8 characters long.
4. Never store passwords or PINs on your computer.
> When entering your pin number or credit card number in an ATM machine, watch out for shoulder-surfers. These are people who have the intention of peering over your shoulder to take note of the keys you’are pressing as you key in your PIN.
> When you want to sell, trade or dispose of a computer system, or a hard drive, remember to destroy the data. Deletion of the data or hard drive reformatting is not enough because any person with computer skills can retrieve the deleted files or recover data from the drive .
> Try to pay your bills at the post office instead of leaving them at your mailbox to be sent out. This is because if an identity thief raids your mailbox they will be able to acquire critical information like your name, address, your credit account number, your bank information which includes the routing number and account number from the bottom of the check, as well as a copy of your signature.
> Limit the information that is contained on your checks. This information includes writing your full names on the check, having your drivers license number or your social security number.
> Beware of phishing scams where emails that seem to be harmless are sent to you, asking that you verify certain things such as account numbers and passwords. The best way to deal with this, is to contact the service provider directly to confirm. For example, you may get an email claiming to be from your bank and you are told to check or update your information by using a link in the e-mail. Do not open the link, instead call your bank to confirm or open a different link to confirm.
> Avoid opening emails which do not make any sense to you or that have come from people or organizations that you do not know. Viruses or worms may be hidden in those emails.
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