Online Identity Theft Protection

Internet identity theft is one of the crime's fastest growing areas. With millions of new online computer users each year, the opportunities to take advantage of people has increased exponentially. Online identity theft protection should be taken seriously. Consider these means by which you can decrease the likelihood of becoming a victim.

Know Who You Are Doing Business With

Do not make an online purchase without doing a little bit of homework on the company from which you will be buying. Make sure they offer a physical address and telephone number that you can access. Do a bit of additional online research about the site and find out if others have had any problems. Although a pretty site is no guarantee of legitimacy, a "bargain" site riddled with errors may be a sign that someone is simply hoping to catch an unsuspecting person from whom they may steal.

Treat online purchases seriously and keep records of every charge you have authorized, who was authorized to make it and the company to which it was made. Check statements carefully to make sure others are not charging your card as well.

Protect Your Personal Details

Your personal information is incredibly valuable and you should treat it with the same level of respect that you would afford to a favorite heirloom or a brick of cash. Be careful with your personal information at all times, but particularly online. The United States Federal government has made the following sound recommendations about protecting your information while online.

  • If you are asked for your personal information including your name, email or home address, phone number, account numbers, or Social Security number, find out how it is going to be used and how it will be protected before you share it. If you have children, teach them to not give out your last name, your home address, or your phone number on the Internet.
  • If you get an email or pop-up message asking for personal information, do not reply or click on the link in the message. The safest course of action is not to respond to requests for your personal or financial information. If you believe there may be a need for such information by a company with whom you have an account or placed an order, contact that company directly in a way you know to be genuine. Either way, do not send your personal details via email because email is not a secure transmission method.
  • If you are shopping online, do not provide your personal or financial information through a company website until you have checked for indicators that the site is secure, like a padlock icon on the browser's status bar or a website URL that begins "https:" (the "s" stands for "secure"). Unfortunately, no indicator is foolproof and some scammers have forged security icons.
  • Read website privacy policies. They should explain what personal information the website collects, how the information is used, and whether it is provided to third parties. The privacy policy also should tell you whether you have the right to see what information the website has about you and what security measures the company takes to protect your information. If you do not see a privacy policy or cannot understand it, consider taking your business elsewhere.

Taking measures like these will help protect you from online victimization.

Phishing

Phishing is the process of sending emails or otherwise directing a computer user to impart with personal information by imitating a legitimate company with which the user may do business.

Mass emails are sent to millions of people hoping to find a handful of users who will willingly part with critical information in response to an email seemingly sent by a legitimate company.

Don't fall for it. Never provide personal information in response to an email. If you are approached to do so, instead call the official telephone numbers for the company and verify their need for the information.

Realize that no legitimate business will demand personal information from you anonymously via the internet. Even if the email you receive of the site to which you hare directed appears legitimate; take the time and effort to double check.

Protect Your Passwords

Treat online passwords seriously. If your passwords are compromised hackers and other potential identity thieves may be able to access a great deal of personal information.

According to the U.S. government, there are some relatively simple steps you can take to enhance password security including:

  • Using passwords that have at least eight characters and include numbers or symbols.
  • Avoiding common words: some hackers use programs that can try every word in the dictionary.
  • Not using your personal information, your login name, or adjacent keys on the keyboard as passwords.
  • Changing your passwords regularly (at a minimum, every 90 days).
  • Not using the same password for each online account you access.

Report Problems

If you think that have become a victim of internet identity theft, report the offense immediately to the Federal Trade Commission and/or local authorities. Not only does this increase the chance of your situation being resolved in a favorable manner, it also provides law enforcement with information that can help them improve their detection techniques.

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