How Can I Prevent Online Identity Theft?
Online identity theft is becoming more and more common and unfortunately, the law still hasn’t quite caught up. As we increasingly shift towards a digital society and post the details of our lives online, it becomes difficult to monitor what information is publicly available about us.
While the consequences can range from irritating to the outright devastating, there are super simple steps that you can take to prevent others from stealing your information and using it themselves.
While the subject of an MTV reality show provokes hilarity and disbelief (“How could they have fallen for that?”), the people directly interacting with these scammers aren’t the only victims. The photos used belong to real people & sometimes it’s not just photos – it’s the details of their personal lives that are also stolen and used.
Online identity theft can have real repercussions for the victims – imagine walking down the street and having some random stranger accost you and insist they know you by another name? That they have a relationship with you and why are you denying it?
One of the simplest ways to avoid having your details stolen and used in this kind of scam is to set your social media profiles to private, so that only friends can see the details of your life. In addition, never accept friend requests from people you don’t personally know.
Phishing is pretty well known by now, but people still fall for it. Chances are, you haven’t inherited $20 000 000 from a Nigerian Prince / long lost relative / Russian Gold Lotto; nor did you win a trip to Paris, NYC or London that you can only claim by ‘entering your credit card details here’ so they can supposedly verify your identity. If it sounds too good to be true, chances are, it is!
Everyone likes to think that one day they’ll get lucky and win something big, but if you’re getting emails telling you that you’ve won a competition you don’t remember entering or that doesn’t appear anywhere on the site of the trusted company the email purports to be from, then alarm bells should be ringing.
Some scams can be hard to spot, so the safest option is to never click on a link in an email that is sent to you. Always enter internet banking via the banks own website; the same goes for eBay, Pay Pal and pretty much any other site that may have your personal information stored.
But Free Wifi Is Free Wifi, Amirite?
No, no it’s not. That ‘free’ wifi can become expensive if it’s unsecured and someone hijacks your data. Think carefully about what sites you visit when using free wifi, especially while travelling.
Digital Safety Starts At Home
This is critical. If you don’t have some form of anti-virus or anti-spyware software running on your computers, you need to. Malicious software such as a cryptolocker virus, spyware and ransom-ware can install itself on your computer any time you connect to the internet or even when installing a program using a USB or other removable media. If you’re unsure if you currently have protection software running on your computer, our friendly tech-sperts can help, so don’t hesitate to ask – prevention is always better than a cure!
Check The Locks
Is there a padlock in your browser bar? Be deeply wary of any site that doesn’t have this yet wants you to enter personal credit card details. No lock, no card details. Simple.
No. Just, no.
Speaking of card details, don’t save your card details on your computer! There are a lot of ‘auto save’ options available now to make it easier to pre-fill forms and sometimes, your computer will ask if you want to save your credit card details. The answer is always no.
It might be time consuming to have to enter your card details every time you buy something online, but it’s going to be a lot less time consuming than having to make police reports and contest credit card transactions run up by the lucky thief who stole your laptop / computer / tablet and discovered all your card details were pre-filled. Doing so may even compromise your automatic protection from your bank against fraudulent transactions, because you didn’t keep your details secure.
What Do I Do If I Think My Identity Has Been Stolen?
- Contact the police;
- Contact your bank;
- Watch your bank account for unauthorised transactions;
- Check your credit report for any attempts to obtain credit that you don’t recognise;
- If you can, log in from a computer that you know isn’t compromised and change all of your passwords on your email accounts, regular websites, etc to something totally new and impossible to guess;
- If you have a ‘standard’ secret question that you always choose, change that, too and make the answer something that no one would ever guess (E.g. if you always choose ‘Mothers Maiden Name’ either pick a different question, or, if you still want to use that one, instead of using her actual maiden name, use a fake name that no one would ever guess).
- Report lost or stolen documents (mail, license, passport, birth certificate, credit cards, Medicare card etc) as soon as you realise they are missing;
The Australian Federal Police have a great online article you can read on identity theft, so maybe check it out as well!