Identity theft is nothing new, from the case of Arnaud du Tilh – a French peasant who was executed for impersonating Martin Guerre in the 16th Century to Frank Abagnale’s exploits as a fake airline pilot in the 1960’s, as documented in Steven Spielberg’s excellent Catch Me If You Can.
Until recently, identity theft was only for ultra cocky confidence tricksters like The Talented Mr Ripley, but since the world went digital, everyone is wide open to having their identity stolen by criminals and cybercriminals alike. According to the 2016 Identity Fraud Study, 13.1 million Americans were victims of identity fraud in 2015 and that figure has surely risen in the years since. So here are six ways to protect yourself from Identity Theft, and since it’s not all down to hackers and ransomware, there are some Old Testament and New Testament ways…
CHARITY STARTS AT HOME
While the digital age makes the identity theft phenomenon much more commonplace, the first place to start is by securing your personal data in and around your home.
The postal service has been serving us since the days of the Pony Express, but how secure is your mailbox? We don’t mean your email inbox, but instead the (usually) unlocked box at the end of your driveway. There’s no way to protect your mailbox from Ace Merrill and his gang of hoodlums, but you can lock down bank and credit card statements, social security numbers, letters from the IRS and DMV and crisp $5 bill from your Nana for your birthday.
When your important financial and medical information has been safely assigned to the only place that’s really secure – your brain – remember not to throw documents in the trash. Shred your documents with a crosscut micro shredder – the ones that make pretty confetti, not easily-glueable-back-together strips.
OUT AND ABOUT
This sounds obvious but always keep your belongings where you can see them. Use Chelsea clips at bars, or wrap your laptop bag around your chair and don’t ask people in co-working spaces to watch your stuff while you nip to the restroom.
While keeping one eye on your possessions has been good advice for decades, in the past thieves were only interested in cold hard cash, or perhaps your ATM/credit card. Nowadays, your purse, wallet or handbag is a treasure trove for thieves containing your phone, credit cards and all sorts of information. Instead of writing down PIN numbers and passwords, use a trusted password manager.
Always shield your ATM PIN number with your other hand, and make sure no one dodgy is lurking behind you and check there is nothing untoward with the ATM machine you are using like an ATM skimmer.
Don’t use your laptop for checking financial records in cafes (on secured or unsecured wifi) and co-working spaces. In Asia, internet cafes are famous for keystroke recorders, so never use an internet cafe’s machines for checking your finances.
TRUST NO ONE
Right, that’s our physical homes taken care of, but with 90% of us spending 28hrs a day (or more) glued to our computer screens, it’s time to look at our online habits.
While no-one’s stupid enough to fall for the Nigerian email scam, millions of scam emails are sent every day and some otherwise intelligent and commonsensical people do get taken in. I get scam emails from one of my banks and they do look half convincing – the giveaway is often the fake URL provided.
When you do check your banking statements online, visit your bank’s website directly i.e. don’t follow links in emails. As a rule of thumb, make sure YOU initiate contact. A bank or official company will never ask you for your personal details such as passwords.
Another, similar way in which scammers target victims is with malware – malicious software usually in the form of attachments. In February 2016, the IRS released a statement saying they have seen a 400% rise in email/phone phishing scams and malware incidents, all of which are designed to trick you hook, line and sinker into giving up your personal information.
Make sure your home/business wifi connection is secure, use two-factor authentication, you have a firewall and up-to-date antivirus software installed. A lot of ransomware is triggered when you open attachments infected with malware, so unless the email in question has come from a trusted source, DON’T OPEN THE ATTACHMENT!
MONITOR YOUR CREDIT REPORTS
Always thoroughly monitor your credit reports, bank/credit card statements, and health insurance statements. Go through every line and every transaction on your statements as even a small charge you don’t recognize could be the tip of the iceberg.
To get your credit report use Experian’s Freecreditreport.com or another reputable company such as Equifax or TransUnion. Okay, maybe don’t use Equifax!
A NEW KIND OF IDENTITY THEFT
Last but by no means least, this very effective commercial from the U.K.’s Barclays Bank demonstrates a new way cybercriminals scam friends and relatives – in theory, all they need are a few details such as your phone number and the name and location of a relative or friend.
They might pull at your heartstrings with sob stories or tales of life-threatening accidents like in the advert, but (just as you should call companies or police stations before letting people in your home) take the time to double check. If someone really was in hospital or trouble, they’re more likely to call than send an e-mail or SMS but if you do receive an email or text from someone you know who’s in trouble and asking for money – give them a call to make sure it’s really them.
That’s all from us until next time, stay safe (always wear protection!) and in the meantime, we really are going fishing with an ‘F’. Catch ya later.