Last week I started this series on Identity Theft with a brief introduction of what it is and several ways you can protect yourself. We continue this week with more ways to protect yourself. Next Monday, I will conclude the series with what to do if your identitiy is stolen.
-Protect your computer from unauthorized access. There are viruses that can get into your computer and send information to others. Some just steal the information already on your computer and others will log every key stroke you make, including when you are entering credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and social security numbers. To help keep these viruses out of your computer, install and use virus protection software and update it regularly. There are free virus protection programs available. I have used both AVG and Avast! (not at the same time, you only want 1 anti-virus software running at a time) and was pleased with both programs. Do not download or click on links that you are not sure of, even if they come in an e-mail from someone you know. I once received an e-mail from a woman I had recently offended. The e-mail subject said something along the lines of apologizing or forgiving and the note said something of the same effect and the words, "see how happy we are" and icluded a "picture". I clicked on the picture and instantly downloaded a virus. Apparently, her computer had the same virus and it sent this e-mail to everyone in her address book. It just happened that the note was fitting to our situation and I fell for the scam. The point is, check with the person sending the download if you have any suspicions at all. Also, use a firewall when online, or if you have a high-speed connection that is always "on".
-Ensure you are using a secure browser before sending personal information over the internet. If you need to send personal information online, ensure that the browser is secure by looking for the padlock on the status bar and "https" at the beggining of the web address. See the picture below for examples.
-Be aware of "phishing" techiniques. This is when you receive an e-mail, pop-up window, or even a phone call that tries to deceive you into disclosing personal information. Often it comes as a request to update or verify your information and they often emply scare tactics as well. You may be told that your account is frozen until you do so or that you risk having your account forfeited. There may be a link to a website that looks identical to the legitimate website, but it is not. How to differentiate "phishing" from actual businesses you deal with? Legitimate companies do not do business this way. They do not contact you and ask for information. If you are concerned about something you receive, call or e-mail the company, using information from the phone book or your account statements. DO NOT USE the information provided on the website that the e-mail or pop-up brings you to. If you respond to a phishing e-mail/pop-up/phone call, immediately contact the legitimate organization so they can freeze your account immediately.
-Try to avoid storing personal information on your laptop. Laptops are easily stolen. Avoid having your passwords and user names automatically stored on your laptop and always log off as well.
-Properly dispose of old/unwanted computers. Permanently delete all personal information from your compter with a program that will overwrite your hard drive. It is often not enough to just delete the inofrmation and then empty the recycle bin. The information will still be on your computer and a good hacker will find it. Killdisk is a free hard drive eraser that is recommended by some computer guys I know.
Review Credit Reports and Bills
-Keep accurate records of all account statements or switch to all electronic delivery of statements. Statements can be stolen through the mail and the information in them can be used by others. If you notice a missing statement, immediately notify the issuing company. If you switch to all electronic delivery, you do not need to worry about the statements being stolen.
-Review all your bills for unauthorized charges. Contact the company to clear up any unauthorized charges and ensure it was actually a mistake and not someone posing as you.
-Review your credit report regularly. You are entitled to a free credit report each year, from each of the 3 major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and Transunion). To better monitor your credit, request one report every 4 months, using a different agency each time. This allows you to identify any changes throughout the year instead of just once a year. Visit www.annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228 to request your free report.