It’s a frightening – yet all too common - scenario to imagine. Unfortunately, identity theft was an unpleasant reality for over 15 million Americans in 2016 alone. Don’t be this year’s statistic - stay vigilant and protect yourself (and your credit)!
Stealing your Identity: It’s Nothing Personal
Generally speaking, identity theft is a crime of opportunity. Whether rich or poor (famous, infamous, or under the radar, too!), pretty much everyone has information of value to a thief. So, if there is an easy way for the bad guys to get it, they will.
How do they do it? Unfortunately, there is no one answer. The ways vary from the use of malicious software designed to look for credit cards, social security numbers, bank account numbers, and so on, to sophisticated attacks against organizations that collect large volumes of information, such as retailers who process credit card information to government agencies who store personnel information. In the latter, a successful attack against a company’s customer database can yield information about millions of individuals! A less sophisticated thief may simply buy your credit card number or medical record from a disreputable site on the Internet or even pay your server to write down credit card information from unsuspecting diners.
What can you do? Simple – Ensure your devices, such as laptops, phones, and tablets, are secure and limit what and with whom you share personal information.
“And you Need to Know that Because …?”
Perhaps the most effective way to protect your identity is to adopt a defensive mindset. Congeniality is a wonderful social trait, but whenever you’re being asked to provide personally identifiable information, such as your credit card, a password (even to your help desk or a colleague when on vacation!) or Social Security number, agreeability can become a liability. Ask yourself: Why am I being asked? Is something about the request giving me pause? Did you call them, or did they call you? Honor your intuition. No matter how convincing a caller may sound – or the sense of urgency with which they convey their message – be wary.
Social Media: Are you Giving Away your Info?
Always exercise discretion in your use of social media. Any personal details you choose to share online may be collected and used to gain insight into your life. Often, innocent fun, such as responding to a Facebook question about concerts you’ve attended, can give away important information. In this case, the potential cause for concern is that "the first concert I attended" is a common category used to allow users to reset their passwords to secure websites. Hence, make sure anything posted cannot be used against you in another context. Also, be sure to configure your privacy settings to only allow friends to see your posts, and be very careful about accepting any requests from individuals you don't personally know.
Don’t Make It Easy
Consider adopting the following security aware behaviors to help keep your identity intact:
· Exercise healthy skepticism. If you’ve received an unsolicited communication from anyone asking you for any sensitive information, play it safe and call them back. But don’t make the mistake of using any contact info they’ve provided you, which may very well just trick you into calling the imposters again—look it up yourself.
· Enable two-factor authentication. Activate two-factor authentication on your important accounts – such as email and banking. See the “Lock Down Your Login” fact sheet for insight and guidance into setting up strong authentication on a variety of popular accounts.
· Watch your account activity. Sign up for text alerts from your credit card company, and check your credit reports on at least an annual basis.
· Securely dispose of all sensitive data. Shred your paper trash, and dispose of electronic media in a method that ensures your data is destroyed.
Contact your local IT staff with any questions you may have about protecting yourself from identity theft.
USA Today: Identity theft hit an all-time high in 2016
CNN Tech: Target will pay hack victims $10M
ABC News: 22 Million Affected by OPM Hack, Officials Say
Reuters: Your medical record is worth more to hackers than your credit card
KrebsonSecurity: How was your credit card stolen?
Many helpful suggestions are found on JNET: Tips of the Month
CBS News: Security warnings as "10 Concerts" lists, free coupon scams go viral on Facebook
Security Tip: Social Media: Hello, World! Goodbye, Privacy?
Security tip: Double Down on Security: Protect the Way You Connect
Security tip: Spring Cleaning: Out With the Old!