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Lessons and stories from the front lines of fighting identity theft.


Instant messaging yourself into identity theft

May 27

Did you know that identity thieves are now shifting the focus of their attacks to instant messaging because it is seen as a largely unprotected channel of communication?  Instant messaging operates on various peer-to-peer (P2P) networks and spawns an irresistible temptation for identity thieves to maliciously steal your identity. 

People who use instant messaging as a constant form of communication may tend to share files and personal information without discretion.  In addition, anti-virus software does not incorporate protection for instant messaging services which makes it that much more enticing for identity thieves to use this forum to commit identity theft. As a result, like sharks in a feeding frenzy, these fraudsters will instant message you to lure you into divulging personal information or send you a Trojan virus or worm that will gather your personal and account information. 

Here are some tips to safe guarding your identity when you instant message:

1. Never open pictures, download files, or click links in instant messages from people you don’t know.

2. Be cautious when creating a screen name. Your screen name should not provide or allude to personal information about yourself. For instance, use a screen name such as FootballFan instead of SmithSally.

3. Create a barrier against unwanted instant messaging. Do not freely list your screen name or e-mail address in social forums.

4. Never ever provide sensitive information such as your credit card numbers or passwords in an IM conversation.

5. Block unwanted messages. Most IM programs allow you to build a contact list (aka as a “buddy list”), which is similar to the address book in your e-mail program.

6. Don’t send personal information through instant messages – such as the location of where you work at or where you live to people you don’t know well.  If a fraudster is on the other end, these pieces of information are enough for a fraudster to commit identity theft against you.

7. If you use a public computer, do not log on automatically. If you do, an identity thief can potentially us the computer after you and have access to your screen name and log-on.