Internet identity theft continues to be one of the fastest growing crimes world wide. Its something that can not only steal your money, but ruin your reputation and leave you with months of work to restore your good name.
AVOIDING IDENTITY THEFT VIA EMAIL
The good news is that the every day computer user can substantially lower the risk of becoming a victim with a few tips and some diligence.
The easiest and most effective thing you can do is pay attention to your email. Email phishing is a scam whereby identity thieves send out mass emails with the intent of stealing the reader’s vital information. Its quite effective, largely because computer users simply don’t pay attention. These emails are often written in HTML and made to look like they came from a financial institution, an on-line retailer, or even a government entity. I’ve even seen them designed to look and feel like the IRS website! The key here is to simply delete these emails immediately.
Any reputable company would never use an email to ask for sensitive information. If you feel the email might be legitimate, move your mouse over the reply address, or the link that’s listed for you to “log in” to the website. If its legit, the link will be clean and direct; something like http://www.yourbank.com.
If its a scam the address will not be so clean: http://xyiph.yourbank.com.imathief.cz, for example.
It’s also a good idea to never click a link that’s identified only by an IP address.
LIMIT ID THEFT WITH TEMPORARY CREDIT CARDS
Another good tip for avoiding internet identity theft is to use temporary credit cards for online shopping. Almost all of the major credit card companies offer these including Visa, Mastercard, and Discover, and companies like PayPal are on board too. Simply do an online search for “temporary credit cards” and you’ll find all the information.
The way this works is that the consumer signs up for a temporary credit card account, then purchases the card from the desired company. Some are purchased with a one-time set amount, others are re-loadable. Its best to use a card with an expiration date within a few weeks of purchase. Anything longer and you’re right back to using a normal card.
The idea here is that even if a thief gets hold of your information, the card will expire before he can make good use of it. This only works however, if you use the card as it’s intended to be: temporarily. It might be an inconvenience to get a new card every few weeks or so, but it’s worth it.
PROTECT YOUR IDENTITY BY PROTECTING YOUR NETWORK
One last tip to help prevent internet identity theft is to protect your wireless network.
Every modern wireless router on the market has the ability built right in to secure your network with encryption. WPA-PSK encryption is probably the best option. It’s easy to set up right from your PC and your user manual should be able to guide you through. If you run into trouble, your ISP provider might be able to help and there’s also the local computer geek who can do it for a small fee. With all this said, be warned that any wireless security can be hacked if given enough time.
When you’re not using your computer SHUT IT OFF. A thief cannot hack a system that’s not on.
You might also set up your wireless router to not broadcast the ESSID. If a thief doesn’t know your network exists, he’ll have a much more difficult time finding it. The keys to stopping internet identity theft are common sense and diligence.
Computer users who put forth the effort to learn a little and apply common sense solutions, are much less like to be victims.
Those who continue to live with their heads in the sand are asking for trouble.