Identity theft has truly become a national epidemic. In 2008, more than 220 million private records were stolen and 8 – 15 million Americans had their identities stolen. The number is expected to increase in the next few years (according to a survey conducted by the Chubb Group).
In the online world, bloggers like us are in danger of having our identity stolen. Why? Because we enter our private information, including our home address, telephone number, bank account number, PayPal information and Social Security Number into many websites, many times a month. We are likely to deal with a lot of people online and have multiple transactions going at the same time. So, it’s easy for someone to steal our identity online if we don’t have the basic understanding of what identity theft is and how we can protect ourselves in the online world.
What is Identity Theft?
According to Wikipedia…
Identity theft is a form of fraud in which someone pretends to be someone else by assuming that person’s identity, typically in order to access resources or obtain credit and other benefits in that person’s name. The victim of identity theft (here meaning the person whose identity has been assumed by the identity thief) can suffer adverse consequences if he or she is held accountable for the perpetrator’s actions.
To be simplified, identity theft occurs when someone steals your identity information to represent themselves as you for fraudulent purposes.
For instance, a person may obtain your name and your SSN in order to obtain credit cards or apply for loans. Or they can rent an apartment, purchase a cellular plan or purchase a car and not pay any of those bills. Since your name is on all the documents, you will be liable for all the expenses. It will cost you a lot of time and money to repair your credit history recover from this bad situation.
How can we Protect Ourselves?
If you don’t have a credit card and you don’t have a job, you probably don’t have to worry about the chance of having your identity stolen. But if you do, here are few tips:
1. Get a Free Credit Report (US Citizens)
Instantly grab your free credit report at http://annualcreditreport.com. Each year, Federal law entitles you with a free credit report to see how many bank accounts you have opened as well as your payment status in those banks. Note that you can’t see your credit score in this report. To see your credit score, you have to purchase another report.
When you apply for a new credit card, the bank which opens an account for you have to request your credit report from three companies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. These top three companies track all of the accounts that are opened under your name and therefore, if you look into your credit report, you will instantly see if someone has stolen your identity and is using it to open any bank accounts for illegal activities.
2. Contact Credit Bureaus if you are a Victim
After scanning your report, if you find an account that you did not open, contact the three credit bureaus right away and request a help from them. Here’s the link to the contacts for: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion
For more information about the recovery process if you are a victim of identity theft, see this link.
3. Use a Password Manager
It’s a security vulnerability and also an inconvenience to type in your password every time you have to sign in to your email, Paypal account or online banking. Try to use LassPass (free), RoboForm ($23.95) or Sticky Password ($29.99) to store all of your passwords and sign in with just one-click.
I have previously used all of these password management tools. Personally, I like StickyPassword the best because it supports both signing in to websites as well as signing in to applications such as MSN Messenger. LastPass is also good because it is free, but it does not have the feature set of the paid apps.
Choose one password manager and use it. Each one will save you a lot of time entering sensitive information as well as protecting you from identity theft.
4. Use Direct URL to Access Financial Websites
It’s a good practice to always type in the direct URL of financial websites (such as Paypal) into your browser address bar.
If you click a link, e.g. from your email, the link may lead you to a fake site and if you type in your private information, it will be stolen. These fake sites will look like the real site and the domain will be similar, so beware.
5. Be Cautious when Opening Emails
A month ago, I received an email from Paypal stating that they changed the security settings and my profile was updated, so I needed to sign in and update it. This email looked legitimate, but I’m a cautious guy so I sent the email to firstname.lastname@example.org. They said that that email was totally fake.
So the best way that you can protect yourself from identity theft and phishing is always be careful when reading and clicking links in emails that relate to your financial information.
6. Be Educated
Get yourself educated about this issue so when it happens to you, you know what to do right away. Idtheftcenter.org is a good site to start with. It contains a lot of good information about this issue and volunteers at that website can walk you through the process of recovering your identity if necessary. Mari Frank’s Identity theft, the Privacy Rights Clearing House, and the FTC maintain a huge library so that you can know more about identity theft and how you can protect yourself beyond the scope of this blog.
What do you think?
Did you know about identity theft before you read my post? Do you think it could happen to you?