Preventing Online Identity Theft
With a few practical precautions, online identity theft can be avoided. Computer hackers, phishing scams and spyware are some avenues for online identity theft.
Here are a number steps you can take for preventing identity theft while you are online:
1. Install virus protection software on your computer and update it regularly. Scan your computer daily especially if you are online often and get email.
Many internet service providers, particularly those who provide high speed internet access, are helping their customers protect themselves by bundling virus protection, firewall and other protective programs including parental controls into their service. If you are in the market for a high speed internet solution, you may want to look into these bundled services.
2. Never open files sent to you by strangers. Do not open unknown attachments or click on download programs. Doing this may leave your computer open to spyware, which can record your keystrokes or capture your passwords, and then send your information to an identity thief.
3. Install a firewall program, especially if you are connected to the internet all day. A firewall can stop intruders or hackers from having access to your computer. If you do not have a firewall, hackers can access your computer and retrieve all the personal information they need for ID theft.
4. If you are shopping online, only use secure web sites. A secure or safe web site will be one that uses encryption technology. This technology scrambles information as it is transferred from your computer to the merchants computer. The only people who can unscramble the message are those with legitimate access. To check for a secure web site look for https:// addresses. The "s" after the "http" indicates the site is secure. You may also see a closed padlock at the bottom of the screen on the site, or an unbroken key.
5. Do Not use debit cards when shopping online. Using your credit card gives you greater protection in case of fraud. If your credit card was used without your authorization, you are only responsible for the first $50 in charges. This safety net does not apply to debit cards.
6. Research the site you want to use. If it is not familiar to you, do some checking. Call the phone number if provided (reliable companies usually display a service phone number). Check the company through the Yellow Pages or a government consumer agency. Do a scam check if youre not sure. Do you know anyone else who has used this site to buy goods?
7. Always read the companys Privacy and Security Policies. Does the company give out your personal information to other companies? If so, you may be inundated with spam - unsolicited email.
8. Never, Never give out your social security number online. Merchants have no need to request your SSN.
9. Provide information relevant to your purchase only. The company will request "required" information, but will often have extra "fields" for you to fill in, where you can supply extra personal information. This information is used for marketing. To prevent online identity theft, do Not provide the extra information.
10. Many sites require you to register for access and include passwords. Dont reveal this password to anyone. Try not to use an obvious password such as your maiden name, birth date or social security number. Have separate passwords for separate sites. The most effective password is one that includes letter and numbers and is at least eight characters in length.
11. Make sure the web site at the top of your screen (in the address bar) is the one you wanted to go to. Identity thieves often create web sites that look suspiciously like sites of well-known companies. If an online shopper doesnt check the address at the top of the screen (the URL in the address bar) when the link opens, they wont know if the site is legitimate or not. Credit card scammers often use this tactic.
12. Once you have purchased something online, you should receive a confirmation of the order, usually by email. Print a copy of this confirmation for your records and make sure the companys name, address, phone number and legal terms are displayed on the printed page.
13. Never respond to emails that ask you to update your bank account information! The email will usually warn there will be dire consequences if you do not do so immediately. Contact your bank and tell them you received this email. Banks DO NOT send out emails requesting you to update account information.
As you can see, there are many ways for online identity theft. Be cautious and careful with the information you provide. When in doubt it is best to use caution and not use the site or provide the information.
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High bankruptcy rates, increased credit card debt, and identity theft make it imperative that all of us take an active role in providing financial and economic education during all stages of one's life.
~ Ruben Hinojosa, Congressman
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Social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook are great for keeping in touch with friends, but can also be a goldmine for identity thieves. Using information you provide about yourself, fraudsters can potentially take on your identity. You can take steps to prevent online identity theft online by restricting who can view your personal information online to people you know. ~ Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada