Author: Yogi Schulz
When we shop, eat meals in restaurants or login at our favorite web sites, we leave an identity trail behind that can be exploited by others. Criminals can use our identification data to take over our identity to steal our assets. When that happens, it’s called identity theft. Cleaning up the mess can take months, cost more money and generally disrupt our lives.
What can we do to safeguard our identity?
Buy a Cross-Cut Shredder
The first action we should take to protect ourselves is to buy a cross-cut shredder and use it for all documents that contain our name, address and account information that we want to discard. This action prevents dumpster divers from acquiring our identity.
Exhibit Cautious Online Behavior
We can better protect our identity on the Web if we follow some simple precautions. First, we should only share personal information when the little lock is displayed in the message area along the bottom of our browser window. The lock indicates that communication between ourselves and the web site we’re accessing is encrypted. Second, we should avoid entering most contests or signing up for “free” offers. These are frequently little more than thinly disguised attempts to gather personal information as a prelude to inundating us with spam or worse. Third, we should not provide more information than is necessary to complete the business we want to conduct. For example, some businesses want to know our mother’s maiden name or our social insurance number. Such requests are excessive in my opinion. We should re-evaluate our interest in doing business with those who want to know too much.
Ignore Suspicious E-mail
Do not reply to suspicious e-mail. I’ve received suspicious e-mail, supposedly originating from Microsoft and Citibank, wanting to confirm personal information. Both organizations, as well as others, have issued press releases reminding us that they don’t do business in this manner. Never type your credit card number or social insurance number into an e-mail message.
Review Credit Card Statements
The first indication that we have become victims of identity theft usually occurs when our credit card statement includes items we have not purchased. Reviewing the monthly statement can help us catch the theft as early as possible.
Review Credit History
Our personal credit history report will include tell-tale signs of identity fraud. These reports list all the credit relationships we have. If our report lists merchant credit accounts or bank credit cards we don’t recognize, we may have become an identity theft victim. Reviewing our own credit history report at least annually can reduce the impact of identity theft in our lives.
Since I’m suggesting this action, I paid to print out my credit history at the Equifax Canada web site. I was impressed by the care Equifax takes to ensure that I am who I say I am and not masquerading as someone tying to steal personal information about others. I’m happy to report I received no unpleasant surprises.
Clean Up Web Surfing Rubbish
As we surf the web, undesirable cookies and spyware can accumulate on our PC. To protect our identity we need to regularly remove the associated files from our PC.
Cookies are small files that are created on our PC when we visit some web sites for the first time. The contents of the cookie will be read and updated when we visit the web site again. The principal content of each cookie is an identifier that represents us. The web site that created the cookie can then capture our surfing behavior and buying history, for that web site only. The software package Ad-aware from www.lavasoftusa.com will scan our disk looking for cookies and recommending deletion of these files.
Spyware refers to software that secretly uses our Internet connection to send data to a spy about our web surfing, for all web sites. The surfing data is used to build a profile that is sold to advertisers to enable targeted promotion. More maliciously, our identification data may be sold to criminals who will attempt to assume our identity to loot our financial assets. The software package Spybot Search & Destroy from www.safer-networking.org will scan our disk looking for spyware and recommending deletion of these files.
We can eliminate this rubbish by using these software packages regularly to clean up. Anti-virus software does not scan for these types of files.
Unfortunately, identity theft is a growing risk and bother in the 21st century. Taking the relatively simple precautions I have described, can greatly reduce the risk of this disruption in our lives.
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Stop Thieves from Stealing YouConsumer Reports, October 2003, p. 12