By Linda Foley, Founder, ITRC
What is your identity worth? To you? To a thief? What if you received an IRS tax bill for $6,200 for back taxes that you owe? What are you going to do? Do you even know what to do? Do you assume it will just go away with a simple police report?
Everywhere you go, especially at community fairs and town hall meetings, consumers are expounding that there is little point in taking any protective actions because cybercriminals will get what they want anyway. That degree of apathy is exactly what cybercriminals depend upon, allowing them to use social engineering or lack of personal security measures to commit their crimes. It is critical that each person does whatever they can to keep personal identifying information away from those who may misuse it. Every security measure “in place” is one more wall the criminals will need to overcome.
So let’s shake off the dust and cobwebs, and review the basics.
- Avoid Telephone / Email Scams – If a person contacts you claiming to be an official government agent or financial account representative asking you for personal information, challenge them. The government and financial institutions would not call or email you for this information.
- Check and recheck any item you are considering on an Internet site – jobs, items for sale, and/or services. You don’t know these folks. That “perfect condition, one-of-a-kind, under Blue Book price” car from Craigslist may not even exist. If you use online shopping, be sure to use a secure payment method when purchasing or selling online.
- Monitor all bank, checking account, money market and other financial records online regularly – meaning at least once a week, if not more frequently. Don’t assume the bank or credit card company is right every time. If more than one person uses the card, ask those people about charges also.
- Follow up when you receive a text or email from your “friend” claiming they have been robbed while in London (Paris or New Orleans), on a last minute trip. Call them to verify they are on a trip. You will probably find out that they are at home , and have not even packed a suitcase.
- Update that obsolete firewall and virus program. Set up these programs to update automatically. Make sure that Windows (or other) operating systems get updates and install them automatically.
- Recognize that your favorite P2P software may make your computer vulnerable to attacks from the outside. It is a great idea to have a separate computer for financial affairs that does not have gaming, P2P, or other entertainment programs installed. Consider implementing strong security protocols on your personal computer.
If you honestly believe there is nothing you can do to prevent yourself from being a victim identity theft, think again. There are plenty of proactive measures you can take which will minimize your vulnerability. Apathy tends to spiral downward and it becomes easier and easier to avoid the topics of cybersecurity and identity theft. It’s that “why bother” attitude that becomes a danger to you and sometimes big win for the criminals. It’s hard to believe you have any control over identity theft, but each of us truly does to some extent. Take a few minutes and exercise your control over your information before the thief does.