There is only one you right? You’re unique. No one else like you. But despite this obvious fact, more than 16 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2017 accordingly to an online survey by The Harris Poll.
People pretending to be someone else (you) commit a crime. Would it surprise you to know that your identity – no matter how unique, is stored on dozens, if not hundreds of servers around the globe as your personal information. It’s out there; between Facebook, your bank, national government etcetera. It’s unavoidable if you want to exist in today’s world, but what is avoidable is becoming a victim of identity theft, especially as it’s among the biggest concerns relating to cybercrime today.
What exactly is identity theft?
Identity theft – also known as identity fraud, is a crime in which an imposter obtains key pieces of personal information, such as a national identification, passport or driver’s license number, in order to impersonate someone else. The information can be used to obtain credit, merchandise and services in the name of the victim, or to provide the thief with false credentials. In addition to running up debt, in rare cases, an imposter might provide false identification to police, creating a criminal record or leaving outstanding arrest warrants for the person whose identity has been stolen.
10 Tips to protect yourself against identity theft
1. Treat your personal identification numbers like the precious commoditiesthat they are – Be very careful in giving out your number and make sure that the receiving party has a good reason to have it.
2. Take passwords and privacy settings seriously – Sure, it’s a headache touse strong, complex passwords, change them regularly, and maintain high privacy settings on your online accounts. But it’s a much bigger headache to be a victim of identity fraud.
3. Be careful what you post on social media – Be mindful of the information you share on social networking sites. Openly sharing information on social networks can give scammers the information they need to impersonate you or answer your password challenge questions. Best practice is to keep your social media accounts private and be cautious about who you connect with. Never share information pertaining to your bank accounts, transaction history, or any other identifying information on social media.
4. Review your credit report and credit card statements – Make sure that you regularly check your credit report for erroneous charges or fake accounts created with your identity. Similarly, check your credit card statements for unfamiliar charges that suggest an unauthorised person is using your credit card data.
5. Be careful with your snail mail – Physical mailboxes are prime targets for criminals, because most are left unattended with sensitive mail for at least part of the day. For incoming mail, consider a locking or spring-loaded mailbox that denies thieves easy access. Shred any unwanted mail containing personal and account information
6. Limit data use in public – Do you leave your credit or debit card out in plain sight while making payments in stores? Do you fill out deposit slips at the bank with your account information available to anyone looking over your shoulder? Do you forget to cover the keyboard as you type in your PIN at your local ATM? Do you connect to websites or apps through unsecure public Wi-Fi spots and transmit any personal information? All of these actions give alert thieves direct access to your sensitive data.
7. File your taxes early – Tax fraud criminals that have your personal information will try to file a false refund in your name as soon as possible, before you even realise that your information has been compromised. Beat them to the punch by electronically filing your return as soon as you have all the required forms and information.
8. Don’t wait on installing system updates – Make it a habit to install operating system updates on your devices when they are made available. Holding out on installing them could put your device at risk.
9. Be careful of attachments and email links – Avoid opening attachments and clicking on links in emails that you received from an unfamiliar source. Phishing emails are common and include attachments and links that are malicious.
10. Spread the word – How often do you get emails and solicitations just because your email address was in the address book of one of your friends whose accounts were hacked? You can’t force everybody to take the same level of protective measures that you do, but you can remind them of the importance of doing so.
There is only one you. And only you can keep your identity safe. Identify where you may be at risk of identity theft and make the change.
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