Friday Apr 25, 2014
How to Avoid Being a Victim of Identity Theft
Written by Adrian Frank   
Thursday, 12 July 2012 05:03

Identity theft is one of the most insidious crimes there is. You aren't robbed at gunpoint; you don't come home to find your house broken into. You try to use your check card or credit card, and it doesn’t work. A few phone calls later, you know why. Someone has stolen your personal information. They have drained your checking account and maxed out your credit cards. Your identity has been stolen.

Don't be a target for these thieves. Use these precautions to keep yourself safe from identity theft.

Protect Your Private Papers

One common way for thieves to get your information is from your mail and papers that you throw away. You can easily safeguard these papers.

Mail should be checked promptly each day. If you are going to be away for more than a couple of days, get a friend or relative to pick up your mail. Alternately, you can have the post office hold your mail. An even better alternative is to stop getting paper statements. Most banks, credit card companies and utilities offer paperless billing and statements.

Any account statements, Social Security papers or other documents that have personal information should be shredded before being thrown away. Inexpensive shredders are available at many stores. The local office supply store may shred documents for a small fee.

Browser Hijacking

When you install a free program that you find on the Internet, you may be installing a browser hijacking program along with it. When you try to go to the website of a financial institution, the program will take you to a fake website. Any site that requires the entering of personal information can be a target of this scam. It may be very hard to tell the fake website from the real one.

Phishing and its Variants

Phishing in various forms uses email, fake websites, text messages and voice mail to attempt to steal your personal information. You might receive an email purporting to be from your credit union or other financial institution stating that your account data needs to be updated. A link may be provided to a website where you will be asked to enter information like log-ins and account numbers.

Avoiding Browser Hijacking and Phishing Scams

Although there are a multitude of these scams, most will be based on a few tried and true methods. Microsoft.com provides these suggestions for avoiding these scams:

  • Never click on links in emails.
  • Never enter account numbers or other personal information in pop-up screens.
  • Install Windows and Office updates when they become available. Check other software frequently for updates as well.
  • Make sure any website that asks for personal information displays a security certificate.
  • To get to a financial website, enter the address into your address bar.

Here are some additional precautions that you should take:

  • Install and use anti-virus and anti-spyware software.
  • Check the address of the website before you enter private information. Secure websites will use "https" instead of "http".
  • Check for a small lock symbol in one corner of your browser. This is another indicator of a secure website.
  • Never open any attachments in an email that you were not expecting. In fact, it is a good practice to just delete any emails that are not from someone you know.
  • In websites and emails, look for things that don’t seem right. Watch for things like bad grammar and spelling, emails that are not addressed to your name or graphics that don't match those of the real website.

Identity theft can leave you with an empty bank account and maxed out credit cards in minutes. Don't give thieves the information they need to do this. Keep your documents secure. Be alert and cautious when opening your email and visiting pertinent websites. Thieves are out there and ready to take your private information. Don't give it to them.

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