Photo (cc) by Don Hankins
You’ve probably heard about identity theft time and time again and brushed it off while saying to yourself, “Oh, it could never happen to me.” Think again, as all it takes is something as simple as a single glance at your credit card information or a dumpster dive by a fraudster to turn your world upside down.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, 9 million Americans are victims of identity theft annually. That’s only 3 percent of the U.S. population, but the numbers are steadily growing as thieves continue to develop new schemes.
Here are 10 reasons why you’re a target for identity theft and what you can do about it:
1. You don’t log off public computers
If you use public computers to access things like social media, banking, PayPal and email accounts, failing to log off is a disaster waiting to happen for many reasons. Those using the systems after you may not be so honest and can use your social media account to tarnish your reputation, your banking and PayPal accounts to abduct your identity, and your email account to access confidential information.
If you can’t log off of the computer itself, at least be sure to log off of the websites, clear the cache and close the browser.
2. You never change your passwords
Lifehacker wrote that hackers are more savvy than ever and can crack your passwords in months or even days. But you can protect yourself by making them as complex and unpredictable as possible and changing them frequently to stay two steps ahead of the hackers.
Also, don’t leave sticky notes that contain all your passwords lying around. I remember working with an individual who failed to take heed to my warning. Not only was his work computer hacked, but sensitive data about the company was also exposed on the Internet.
3. You fall for phishing scams
Hackers must love to prey on my bank, as I constantly receive emails telling me to log on to their “website” to resolve an issue. The first time I received an email of this sort, I actually clicked on the link and realized that the site was a replica. And the hackers did a darn good job at it.
Word to the wise: If you receive this type of email, immediately call your bank to report it and check to see if your account has been compromised.
Another popular form of phishing surfaces through pop-ups, which are quite enticing and typically too good to be true. If one appears on your screen that tells you to “Click here to claim your $100 gift card,” use your good judgment and kindly click the exit icon. If you fall victim to the trap, your identity will be floating in cyberspace waiting to be abducted by the next available thief. To prevent these pop-ups from showing up on your screen, disable them, and be sure your anti-virus protection is up-to-date.
4. You fail to shred confidential documents
Junk mail may annoy you to the point where you instantly toss it in the trash, but it offers a major perk to fraudsters because a lot of it contains personal information. And with credit card offers, you also risk someone opening a card in your name and going on a shopping spree.
So go ahead and protect yourself by shredding those outdated bank statements, credit card offers and old bills. This post explains which documents to shred and which to keep. And if they are not quite ready to be purged, be sure to store them in a safe place until the time comes.
5. You don’t shop on secured sites
When conducting transactions online, you don’t analyze the site to make sure it is legit. To protect yourself, shop only on computers with current anti-virus protection, look for the secure checkout icon at the bottom of the browser, and confirm that the Web address starts with “‘https.”
6. You share confidential information on unsolicited calls
I can’t even count how many times I have received automated phone calls from representatives claiming to be from my bank. The most memorable one asked me to enter the last four digits of my Social Security number so that I could be transferred to a customer service representative to discuss an issue with my account. When I quickly hung up the phone and called the number back, I got an out-of-service message.
Go figure. All the hackers were trying to do is confirm those last few pieces of my information so they could wreak havoc on my identity. So, I advise you to avoid giving out information on unsolicited calls.
7. You leave your belongings unattended in public venues
Even if you have to make a quick run to the restroom or inside the convenience store to pick up a few things, take your belongings with you. Is it really worth having your identity stolen over a lost seat or by being careless? Thieves can steal bank cards, driver’s licenses or even Social Security cards (which you shouldn’t carry in the first place) with one swipe of your belongings, and open new accounts or go on an online shopping spree by the time you report it. They also love cellphones because of the volume of data many carry around in the handheld device.
8. You use public Wi-Fi to conduct transactions
Sharing confidential information, such as passwords and credit card information, is never a good idea when you’re on a public network because it is easily accessible by hackers who share the same connection with you. As convenient and appealing as it may be to shop online while sipping a latte from Starbucks, just know that some identity thief may be trolling the cyber network waiting to steal cookies and make you his next victim.
9. You text confidential information
Text messages are not exempt from hackers, so refrain from transmitting credit card information, login information and even pictures of your ID.
10. You store personal information on your computer
If your computer is stolen, say bye-bye to your Social Security number, copies of tax returns, master lists of passwords and confidential account information, just to name a few.
What to do if your identity is stolen?
The FTC advises that you take the following steps:
- Place a fraud alert on your credit file.
- Retrieve a free copy of your credit report.
- Submit a document detailing the occurrence to the FTC to create an identity theft affidavit.
- File a police report about the incident and provide a copy of the identity theft affidavit to compile your identity theft report.
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