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How You Can Avoid Identity Theft by Hackers

Posted On   date16/09/2014

How You Can Avoid Identity Theft by Hackers

Maybe you´ve heard a lot about identity theft and data security breaches lately. Maybe you´re starting to feel a bit uneasy about the situation and might have gotten somewhat concerned with what is going on around the world with private information being sold on the black market. But, believe it or not, getting scared is a good sign. It means you’re aware of the danger, and this is the first step to avoid identity theft and start protecting your privacy.

Internet hackers have been busy during 2014, and the media has been giving a lot of coverage to the breaches that big companies like Target or Home Depot have suffered. Many organizations have been hacked in the past few months. Criminals are stealing personal data from thousands of people especially in the United States, and this is causing some panic with consumers. Although it might seem that hackers are getting very good at what they do –which we do not doubt- there is another important factor in the equation: negligence. Simple human mistakes are opening the doors for criminals to come in, and they are taking every opportunity they find.

For instance, Healthcare.gov test servers were hacked because nobody cared to change the manufacturer’s default password, nor did they care about security scans for these servers. Perhaps no large scale website puts your data at risk more than the Obamacare debacle of a website.  If possible, this website is best avoided.

The celebrities’ pictures that were recently leaked were most likely a result of clicking on the wrong link and giving away usernames and passwords (phishing) than to complex programming that could get through Apple´s iCloud security. Most of the recent cases have similar stories, which reveals that as individuals and as organizations we have not taken online security and privacy seriously.

The good news is that all the buzz about data breaches is creating a new atmosphere of awareness, and people are starting to pay a bit more attention on online privacy configurations and security best practices. Privacy is being lost faster than at any rate in history.  It is a privilege that we need to protect with every tool we´ve got.   The following information should help you in the fight, and keep you safe.

Prevention is key. Here´s what to do.

A conscious use of the internet is part of the deal if you want to protect yourself from identity theft.

  1. You are probably a social media user, so this concerns you. Set all your accounts to the maximum level of privacy you can find. Research about the guidelines and options that each social network has to protect your privacy. Never ever leave your content to open settings, you´d never guess where your name and photos may be used to scam other people. If you are a military member be especially careful, identity theft is a big issue for military members.
  2. Social media is about sharing, we get it. It is OK to share a picture or something that was important to you. But try to share as least as possible. When you post all your plans, where you live, and absolutely everything you do, you are most likely giving a criminal important information that will help them steal your identity, or worse. Online dating scammers do this, so if you´re in an online relationship you might also want to get a dating background check to verify you are really dating “John Smith” and not someone in Africa who says he is John Smith.
  3. Always, always verify the authenticity of a website you are trying to use, especially if it is requesting you some kind of personal information, usernames or passwords. Reliable organizations will never send you an email requesting you to introduce any of this information directly. Those companies who have suffered a hack recently will probably let you know about the risk and ask you to change your passwords, but they will not include a link. When something like this happens, you can call the company or do some research online to verify what are the official recommended steps.
  4. Use a safe search engine like DuckDuckGo that does not track all your searches and share your information with the government.  See what you can find about yourself online, and ask yourself what a criminal might be able to do with that information.

What about offline?

Target, Home Depot, UPS and who knows how many others have demonstrated that credit card information is not safe with everyone. Maybe more companies will be using them as an example of what not to do with their customers’ info, and hopefully they are strengthening their systems right now.  But in the meantime:

  1. Try to pay with cash as much as possible. This will keep you out of the companies systems, and keep you out of the money trail.
  2. Shred your paperwork. Your printed bank statements and other paperwork contain valuable information about yourself.
  3. Check your card statements. You won´t discover an identity theft if you don´t pay attention to your statements.
  4. Share less with companies, and be careful about who you give your address, email and phone number to.  Don’t feel bad about saying you won’t give out the information, and if forced to, consider providing false information.  Set up a second email for junk and sharing.
  5. Open a PO box and start using that as your primary address.  Do everything possible to stay off public record, and keep you internet footprint small.  The less the government and criminals can find about you online, the safer you and your family are!

C. Wright
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