The news is full of identity theft stories and there is a mass market for identity theft protection. But, there are some things you can do to protect yourself.
I think I got a little ahead of myself, let me explain what identity theft is before I continue.
A Google search turns up the following definition: the fraudulent acquisition and use of a person’s private identifying information, usually for financial gain.
How do identity thieves get their hands on this personal data?
Often it is through dumpster diving. This is why it is important to shred all your documents. Not just what you consider “important financial information” but ANYTHING with your personal information on it. Be especially mindful of your Social Security Number (SSN).
Another way is through computer malware. Malware is a term that encompasses viruses, trojans and spyware.
To prevent this type of ID Theft, keep your computer and all it’s applications (programs) up to date. Make sure you have a trusted anti-virus system and that it too is kept up to date, is always active, and that it checks everything that comes into your computer.
The next method these attackers use is called “phishing”. That is, they lure a user to a website pretending to be that user’s financial institution or sometimes just their email provider. When the unsuspecting user visits the fake site and enters their information, the criminal captures that information, visits the real site and gets full access to all their personal and financial data.
To protect against this type of attack, be mindful and diligent about the websites you visit. Watch for tricky web addresses (URLs). A bank will not send you an email telling you to click a link to go and fix, update or confirm your password. Only visit your bank by hand typing their address into your browser, and even then, double and triple check the typed name because criminals will register domains with names like (for the fictional BigBank) bigbakn.com or bgibank.com in the hopes that someone will make that sort of typing error.
For more information about how to prevent identity theft, visit Tanya Higginbotham’s site, Accountability Team where she and her team talk about some specific concerns around tax-time. (Protect your IRS tax return from identity fraud)