Technology has made it easier for us to connect with other people, perform the most complex tasks and more. With the Internet, life has become more convenient for many people around the globe. Nowadays, they do not even need to step outside of their homes to do the groceries or go to pharmacies to find the medications they need anymore; they can just have the items delivered right at their doorstep. Students can even take degree courses online. However, this has also brought several risks. One of them is identity theft.
What is identity theft?
According to the official site of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI, identity theft is an occurrence where an individual obtains someone’s personal information through unlawful means and uses it to commit crimes such as fraud and theft. Aside from that, attempting to open someone’s personal account without their knowledge and consent is also an offense. The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act defines it as a federal crime which involves “knowingly transfer or use, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable state or local law.”
Every year, there are millions of people around the world who are victims. In a statistical report conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 16.6 million US residents were victims of identity theft in 2012. And in 2014, 17.6 million have had their personal information stolen from them. The survey also stated that the victims are aged 12 years old and above.
In order to keep your identity safe online and offline, here are some tips you can follow:
Choose secure passwords and PINs
Try to come up with a combination that no one else will be able to figure out. Remember, the only person who must know is yourself. An informative article from the official Microsoft website says that a strong password consists of special characters, capital letters and numbers. For example, you can disguise simple words into complex codes such as “eggplant” into “eg6pl4Nt”, or “house” into “h0u$3”. You may also try creating an acronym for something that is easy to remember or meaningful to you. For instance, you can transform the phrase “My daughter graduated on June 2014” into “mdgOjun2k14”.Using personal information such your birthday, mobile and landline numbers, and digits from your Social Security number is high inadvisable as it will only increase the risk of getting your valuable accounts stolen.
Be careful storing data onto a computer or other digital device
Since computers and mobile devices are hackable, especially when constantly used to connect to the internet, storing passwords and other vital data in them is not recommended. In an article written by Warwick Ashford, hackers are capable of attacking high-profile companies such as the US Office of Personnel Management, Sony Pictures, and hotel chains like Hilton and Mandarin Oriental. In 2013, over 110 million shoppers were victims of the Target phishing-case despite the company’s security measures. According to a news article by Huffington Post, an employee from Target was suspected to be involved.
To keep valuable documents safe, you can transfer them into flash drives, external harddisks and other detachable storages. You can also set up a password on these devices for more security. In case you need to backup some important files, remember to disconnect from the internet while you do so. Setting up a sensitive and fast-acting security software will help keep your computer safe as well.
Install efficient and reliable anti-virus softwares into your computer
Since most identity theft cases occur online, it is highly advised to have strong anti-virus and malware programs in your computer. Activating pop-up blockers on your browser and the firewall in your computer’s settings will help in preventing unauthorized programs and websites from breaching your system. Creators and developers have also created security applications that you can download and install into mobile devices. Some of the most top-rated anti-virus softwares are Kapersky, NOD32 and McAfee. These names have not only maintained credibility for five years, they also continue to develop features such as spam mail protection, which guards users from suspicious e-mails and phishing; and parental security, an option which filters websites and blocks offensive URLs from minors.
Be aware of your surroundings when using ATMs
When making transactions in a public ATM, be mindful of people who may be trying to catch a glimpse of your combination. They will try to disguise themselves as passersby or onlookers in the hopes of catching sight of your PIN. You can prevent this by using your free hand as a shield while you input your PIN. Some thieves even go as far as installing cameras and hacking the ATM machine itself. It is a safe measure that you inspect the machine before you use it.
Tamper or Shred documents containing valuable information
In case you need to throw out some old documents such as credit card bills, receipts, photocopies of birth certificates, and outdated resumes, never forget to blot out your personal information before you throw them out. If you need to dispose of old IDs and credit cards, do not forget to bend or cut them. ITS Tactical encourages proper disposal of sensitive documents and offers more ways on how you can do so. According to them, burning the documents is more efficient than just simply shredding the documents and then disposing them since identity thieves can still weave and put it back together.
Remember, even if the document is expired, others can still make use of the information it contains.