The risk of identity (ID) theft has been with us for a long time. With our high-tech toys like computers, smart phones and bank machines, keeping your private, sensitive information, well, private, has become more complicated. In this article, we are going to review some dos and do nots, in the form of a handy checklist. Why not print out a few copies, and distribute them to your friends and family.
It is important that you make a bit of an effort to protect your data. Why? Because recovering from ID theft can be costly, time-consuming and frustrating. For example, there have been cases of ID theft which led to the home of the victim being sold right out from under him, without his knowledge or permission of course.
Read the following checklist carefully, but do not be discouraged or overwhelmed. All you need to do is be alert and vigilant, and you will be fine. OK, here we go:
1. Never give out any personal information unless you really have to. Some large stores ask for your phone number or zip code at the cash, for marketing purposes. Identity theft alert! Just say no.
2. There are three critical pieces of your information which you should never give to anyone except your bank, employer or government agency, and then only if you must. These are your date of birth, maiden name of your mother and your Social Security Number. Once a crook has this information, it is much easier to dig up almost anything about you.
3. Be careful in your choice of passwords online. Do not use your date of birth or Social Security Number (do not laugh; it has happened). Do not use the name of your child or pet, local landmark or college, favorite restaurant, any word in the dictionary, or anything related to you. Crooks use this info to break into your email and online bank accounts. This in fact happened to Sarah Palin.
4. Check your bank and credit card statements upon arrival. Report any discrepancies at once.
5. Check your credit report a couple of times a year, especially before making a large purchase such as a car or house.
6. Make sure all security programs on your computer are up to date, including Windows. You do have anti-virus, anti-spyware and firewall programs, right? If not, get them, pronto!
7. Avoid public computers and public wi-fi hot spots. Or at least do not visit sensitive sites such as your banking and shopping web sites from these places. Use strong encryption. Currently, that means WPA2.
8. Always practice safe surfing, and train your kids to do the same. Educate yourself about spam, phishing attacks, email attachments, etc. Do not copy and paste login information and passwords. The contents of your Clipboard can easily be seen.
9. Shred or burn any documents bearing your name, address, etc. before discarding them.
10. If you travel across international borders with a laptop or even a smart phone, be prepared to have the devices searched and all your files examined. You may have to reveal the decryption key to any encrypted documents. Make sure you have a current backup at the office.
11. Before logging into that bank machine or hotel computer, glance around to ensure no one is snooping on you.
12. There are many resources online to fight identity theft, and to help you recover from an attack. Check them out. Look especially for government sites, that is, web sites ending in.gov.
By now you can guess that it is much easier to protect your credit rating and reputation, than to spend months or even years repairing them after they have been hijacked. So print this list and paste it up on the wall beside your computer, where the whole family can see it. Reread it from time to time, to refresh your memory.