I – Identity Theft and How to Prevent It

In the digital age, it is easier than ever to have your identity and personal information stolen. Before the age of the internet, criminals would dumpster dive for forms and credit card applications, using those to commit fraud and worse. Yet, rather than keeping society more secure, the digitalization of data has only perpetuated this issue. Information is more public, easier to access, and there’s more of it; Facebook and other social media platforms encourage people to willingly share increasing swathes of data with little consideration of the consequences. Nonetheless, responsible data practices go far to keep information secure. By following a few simple steps, users can greatly reduce their risk of identity theft. 

First, be scrutinous when browsing the internet. Verifying the legitimacy of websites eliminates the easiest route for attackers to steal information. Double-checking the URL by Googling the site name is an effective way to ensure the link is valid. Additionally, many websites now offer simplified privacy policies for their users. If not, or if this policy appears illegitimate, the website should be avoided.  

Second, even on legitimate websites, be conscious of what information is shared. For instance, consider the popular social media platform Facebook. Seemingly innocuous personal information shared on this site, such as new jobs or family connections, may be used to track down the answers to security questions. If a security question involves the mother’s maiden name and she has her father friended on Facebook, it’s all too easy for a hacker to gain illegitimate access to accounts or data. For additional security, it may be wise to avoid common and easily guessed security questions, perhaps even opting for trick questions. Choosing incorrect but easily remembered answers is a great way to throw off attackers. For example, one might list their first car as a Corvette or a Tesla rather than a Kia. 

Third, users must ensure their locally stored information is kept safe. People typically hold their most prized possessions the closest, and data is no exception. Hackers may try to gain access to personal information through users’ own computers. By installing antivirus and antimalware software, as well as limiting the data accessible at a given time, users can keep their most important data safe.  

Even when taking the utmost care, it’s still possible for an attacker to steal one’s identity. In the event you become compromised, the government provides somewhat of a contingency plan to help. Start by visiting identitytheft.gov, the official one-stop source for reporting and recovering from identity theft. Then, contact credit agencies, banks, and any other sources where your identity may compromise you. Hopefully, this will never be necessary; however, it’s always important to be prepared.

Author: Grey Ruessler, IT User Services