8 Steps to Prevent Identity Theft Online:
Identity theft is a huge global problem, affecting millions of adults and children every year. The crime occurs when a fraudster gains access to your personal identifiable information (PII) and uses it to commit fraud—such as obtaining credit or simply stealing money from your financial accounts. They may even clone your identity and use it to complete employment forms or file for a tax refund.
The online realm has increased the ways fraudsters can access your PII and also the ways they can use it. They commonly infect computers with malware or use ‘phishing’ scams to steal passwords and other sensitive information. They might then access anything from bank accounts to your email, which can then provide them with even more personal data.
If you wish to prevent identity theft online, the following 8 steps can help …
1) Avoid Sharing Too Much on Social Media
Social media and the wider internet is a treasure trove of personal information. Even if you don’t think you’ve shared anything sensitive, odd posts here and there can soon be pieced together by a fraudster to build something more substantial.
They can find out where you live, work, your phone number, your hobbies and interests, and who your friends are.
Many people use their mother’s maiden name, pet’s name, street name etc as a security question. These may all be viewable on your Facebook page.
So, at the least, you should set your profile to only be viewable by friends, and even then, you should be cautious about what you share.
2) Use a Firewall and Scan for Malware
Firewalls provide a wall of security from unauthorized access via the internet. Regularly scanning for malware will also help detect any malicious software from infecting your computer and stealing your information.
Some of the best firewalls and anti-malware/anti-virus programs cost money, so you may want to learn ways to make money fast, so you can fund these purchases.
3) Use Strong Passwords and Regularly Update Them
The big rule with passwords is to never use one that somebody could guess based on public information (pet name, birthday etc), but also never use a common dictionary word either. Fraudsters can use a program that tries every single common word variation until they find the one that works.
You can reduce the chances of this ever working by using a strong password—one that is long, contains upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.
It’s also a good idea to update your passwords periodically.
4) Protect Your Personal Email Account
If somebody gains access to your email account it can be a one-stop shop for all of your personal information. Just think of all the things that are linked to that account and imagine what a fraudster could do with it!
What’s worse, once they’re in, you might not even know it. If you suddenly find yourself locked out because they change the password, you will know something is wrong. But, if they operate quietly and limit themselves to your older opened emails, you might only realize something is wrong when it’s too late.
Therefore, it is important to use strong passwords for your email account and to make use of all available security measures. Gmail, for example, allows you to use two-step verification and lets you limit access to only certain devices (i.e. your own personal smartphone).
5) Be Aware of Phishing
Phishing (a metaphor for fishing), is when fraudsters pose as legitimate entities in order to get you to willingly hand over personal data like usernames, passwords, card, and bank details. The most common way of doing this is via spoof emails and/or fake web pages, that ask you to login or update your details for various reasons.
Some are easy to spot as the email address or web address isn’t the same as the real ones. However, some scammers can even spoof these, so don’t rely on your ability to discern.
The best way to avoid a phishing scam is to close your email or browser tab and go to the legitimate site yourself. If there’s a genuine reason to change your password or otherwise update your details, you’ll know from within your account.
Note: Phishing scams can also occur over the phone and via apps.
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6) Wipe Old Computers and Devices
Your computer and mobile devices are packed full of personal data and other information. Before you throw them out or sell them on, remember to fully wipe them so nobody else can gain access to it.
Fortunately, most modern smartphones allow you to go back to the factory settings. It is also wise to log out of all email, app, and social media accounts, and remove all apps before doing this.
Computer hard drives can be easily wiped with various software programs (just deleting everything to the recycle bin isn’t sufficient). However, if you’re throwing it out, you may as well physically destroy it as well.
7) Use Credit Over Debit Cards
It might not necessarily be safer to use a credit card over a bank card online, both can equally be at risk of, however, credit card companies tend to be much faster acting and willing to refund in cases of fraud.
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8) Use a Fraud Alert
If you are unlucky enough to already be a victim of identity theft, one way you can limit its impact is to place a fraud alert on your credit report by containing one of the big three credit bureaus. You can choose a period from between 90 days and 7 years, which means whenever a business accesses your report they are forced to carry out further identity checks.
This is to make sure you are actually the one attempting to obtain credit and not a fraudster.
Ultimately online security is about using common sense and taking the appropriate measures. By following the above steps you will be able to reduce the chances of identity theft considerably.
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