Blog 4.8.2012 Comments Off on Protect your identity 101

lockIn order to protect yourself against identity theft, it’s important to understand the many methods fraudsters employ. Low-tech and high-tech, in your neighborhood or on the other side of the globe, identity thieves operate in a wide variety of ways.

These include – but are certainly not limited to – the following:

Rifling through your trash. You wouldn’t believe how much information people simply throw out with their garbage – credit card bills, receipts, bank statements… All of these contain information a criminal can use to help access your accounts or open another in your name. Also commonly known as low tech hacking.

Ditto your mailbox. If your mailbox isn’t locked, anyone can reach in and help themselves. Letters from the government may include information such as your date of birth, SSN or SIN and more. Expecting something important? Watch for your postal carrier and meet them at the box 🙂

At the airport/bus terminals when traveling. Don’t have any personal or company identifiable information on your luggage/baggage. It makes it easier for thieves to target a bag with a company logo on it because it says to them that there are valuable things in it. It also makes it easier for con artists to act like they know who you are if your name is on something that you are carrying.

Change of address. A criminal may fill out a change-of-address form and use it to divert your mail to a different location. It may be a while before you notice certain bills or statements don’t show up.

Receipts. Credit card and debit receipts hold a wealth of information a criminal can use. Another form of low tech hacking.

“Skimming.” Skimmers are devices that can copy the information from your credit or debit cards. They can be attached to ATMs or point-of-purchase machines (such as on a gas pump or at the movie theatre); they can also be handheld and used by sales staff (for example) when you hand over your card to pay for dinner or retail items.

Pickpocketing. Good old-fashioned purse or wallet stealing is still a popular way for thieves to snitch credit cards and other identification. (Goes with “Peeking” below)

Peeking. (goes with pickpocketing above) Who is watching as you enter your PIN at the bank machine or checkout? Use your card as a credit card at the register, and sign your name vs using a PIN. If PIN is the only option, put your hand/wallet over the keypad to keep prying eyes from watching. (AKA low tech hacking)

Hacking. There’s a lot of information on your computer, from finances to personal details to passwords and banking history. Today’s hackers are an inventive bunch – they may break into your computer through unsecured network connections, or they may develop viruses, spyware, malware and other electronic gremlins to get in. Some of these simply corrupt your hard drive; others get in, record what you do (such as the passwords you type), and transmit the information to a remote computer. Always keep your computer software updated!

Inside jobs. All it takes is for one employee (or acquaintance) of a financial, government or health organization to share some files. Institutional and corporate data breaches happen every day. Sometimes they are criminally motivated; sometimes they happen through negligence. Whatever the cause, the end result could be your personal information getting out and into the wrong hands. Far too often, the public is not notified quickly in these cases.

Unsafe Internet sites. Pop-ups should generally be avoided; never follow links from suspect advertising. If you shop online, make sure you do so from a secure site. When ordering, check that the address bar reads “https” instead of “http” – this indicates a security certificate. Look for a locked padlock icon at the bottom of your browser, which also indicates a secure site.

“Spoofing” or “phishing.” This is when an identity thief sends out an email that looks like it came from a legitimate website, such as a bank, retailer or charity. Too many people fall for these scams! Remember that a reputable organization will never ask you for your password or account number over the phone. If you would like to donate to a charity, make sure you make the call.

Diligent identity thieves don’t necessarily gather all your information from one place or at one time. But by piecing together, for example, your address from a piece of mail, your birthday from your driver’s license and an account number from an old receipt, a criminal may soon have enough to wreak havoc on your life and finances.

It is very important to stay on high alert at all times. Keep an eye out for unusual action in your credit report or credit files

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