Identity Theft - Is Your Identity at Risk On The Internet?
Identity Theft has become an epidemic in the United States, Canada, the UK and Japan. In the United States, identity theft complaints to the Federal Trade Commission have increased over 320% in the last few years, from 31,117 in 2000 to 10,000,00 in 2005.
Identity theft can occur in many forms, in many places and in many ways. Since we live in a computerized world, a look at the threats we face when we use our personal computers is certainly warranted. Many criminals who want to obtain personal data from people online use a technique known as "spoofing": the creation of e-mails and websites that appear to belong to legitimate businesses, such as financial institutions or online auction sites, etc. Consumers often receive e-mails from what appears to be a legitimate business then are directed to a website, appearing to be from that business where the consumers are directed to enter large amounts of personal data. In fact, the criminals who create these e-mails and websites have no real connection with those businesses. Their sole purpose is to obtain the consumer’s personal data for the purposes of engaging in various fraud schemes.
Think of e-mail like a postcard - it is not sealed, and can be read by anyone determined to do so. There is also nothing to prevent the recipient from distributing your e-mail to others. Remember whenever you divulge information that you consider private it may not stay private. An unencrypted e-mail message is not private. There are many "sniffers" or software tools that can copy or tamper with the contents of e-mail messages. To help prevent this from happening, you should consider using an e-mail encryption program. The best practice is to never send anything you would not want repeated in a crowd.
To prevent this, you can set your browser so that it alerts you whenever a web site attempts to send a cookie. You can also delete the cookies stored on your computer by referring to your browser's help file for instructions.
When shopping on the Internet, you should not provide your Social Security Number as a piece of identification unless the law requires it. If asked to provide your SSN, always ask why. Sometimes organizations or businesses ask for your information so that it can be sold to someone else. The more your personal information is made available, the more vulnerable you become to identity theft.
Do not give personal information out over the Internet unless you are the one who initiated the contact and know the person or organization with whom you are dealing. Before you share such information, ensure that the organization is legitimate by checking its website to see if it has posted any fraud or scam alert when its name has been used improperly. Another good practice is to call its customer service number listed on the web site.
Here are few tips to help you minimize your risk of identity theft over the Internet:
Install a good firewall software program. Install a good spy ware program, update it and run it daily (not only will you reduce your risk of identity theft, your computer will run better). Use passwords that are NOT easily guessed (birth dates, street numbers, names of family members with combinations of birthdays, etc. should NOT be used). Keep password(s) that you have recorded hidden in a very safe place and NOT near your computer. If you don’t know the person or organization that emails you asking for information, discard it immediately. And, as previously stated, do NOT give your Social Security Number out over the unless you are positive who you are giving it to and know that it is legal and safe to do so.
If you think you are a victim, order credit reports from one of the three credit reporting agencies: TransUnion, Experian or Equifax. If confirmed, report it to them and the authorities. Identity theft is REAL. Don’t become a victim by making careless use of your computer.