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How To Avoid Identity Theft Online

October is National Cyber Security Awareness month. Identity theft is a growing concern in today's internet landscape. Learn how to be protected against it. This is part 3 in a series of blog posts we will be publishing on various topics aimed at educating you on how to stay protected on today’s Internet landscape.

Identity theft is the leading consumer complaint to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC reports that 9 million identities are stolen in the United States every year. Of course, stealing your identity information isn't the worst of the crime; it's what the criminal does with the information that's damaging: credit card fraud, mortgage and utilities scams; and emptied bank accounts

A Two-Part Crime

Identity theft is a two-step process. First, someone steals your personal information. Second, the thief uses that information to impersonate you and commit fraud. It's important to understand this two-step approach, because your defenses also must work on both levels.

Protect Your Information

Online identity theft is a huge and growing problem; mainly because scammers are getting really good at tricking people into giving over their information. With phishing and pharming scams, thieves use fake emails and websites to impersonate legitimate organizations. They leverage your trust by coercing you into divulging personal information, like passwords or account numbers. Likewise, hackers can create malware to infiltrate your computer and can install keystroke loggers to steal data or capture account names and passwords as you type them.

You can foil would-be identity thieves by being proactive:

  • Transact financial business online only with secure websites with URLs that begin with "https:" or that are authenticated by companies like VeriSign or the Norton Secured Seal.
  • Install personal firewall, antivirus, antispyware, and antispam protection-all are available in a single security suite with Norton Security.
  • Avoid phishing scams by using caution when clicking on links or opening files from unknown senders.
  • Use unique secure passwords for each site you visit.
  • Be careful about what personal information you divulge via social networks. Scammers can gather a lot of information about you when accessing these networks. Social networks can display personal information such as your full name, birthdate and city that you live in. Be sure to check your privacy settings on your social accounts to be sure that information is only visible to trusted friends and family.
  • Watch out for “shoulder surfers” that are looking over your shoulder while you are on your computer or phone in a public place.
  • Never send personal information such as Social Security numbers or credit card numbers via email, instant messages and across social networks. Not even in a private message.
  • Keep your web browsers up to date to avoid vulnerabilities that will allow hackers to access your personal information.
  • Don’t store any sensitive information about yourself or your bank accounts on your computer.
  • When disposing of old technology, be sure to completely wipe all information from the device. The best thing you can do is restore the device to factory settings if it is a mobile phone or tablet, or erase the hard drive if it is a computer by installing a clean version of the operating system on the hard drive.

How To Spot Identity Theft

  • Closely monitor your bank accounts, credit reports and any other financial accounts you may have. If the financial companies you do business with offer activity alerts, sign up for them. And if you receive an alert or your financial institution reports unusual account activity, respond as soon as possible.
  • Pay attention to your regular utility bills and bank statements. If you suddenly stop receiving bills, this can be a red flag  - a criminal could be using your information to have these accounts transferred to their own address.
  • Suddenly receiving credit cards in the mail that you did not apply for.
  • Receiving calls from debt collectors for goods and services you did not sign up for.
  • Being unable to log into a website using your normal password

How To Combat Identity Theft

  • Contact affected entities – compromised websites that you can no longer log into, utility companies, banks and credit card companies.
  • Change your passwords if possible. If it is not possible to change your password on the account that has become compromised, contact the website’s technical support to report the issue.
  • Change answers to security questions on all websites that you visit regularly. If a scammer has gained access to some of these answers, it is possible they can use them on other sites as well.
  • File a police report with your local police department.
  • Open a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

Fight Fraud

Although there's a lot you can do to protect your identity, some things are out of your hands. Even if you've been careful with your information, that doesn't mean someone won't hack into your employer or bank's computers. That's why it's important to keep constant tabs on your accounts and credit report.

It can take several months for you to discover if you're a victim of identity theft. During that time, thieves can plunder accounts or run up serious debt in your name.

Regularly check your credit report for unusual activity. If you see anything strange or unexpected, like a new credit line you didn't open, follow up immediately.

If someone has stolen your identity, quickly take steps to minimize the damage. Close financial accounts that may be compromised. Cancel your driver's license or ID cards you may have lost. Put a fraud alert on your credit report and track your report closely for the next few years.

Identity theft has become a fact of life. To avoid becoming a victim, diligently protect your personal information utilizing the above mentioned tips, monitor your accounts and credit report, and respond swiftly to any signs your identity is being misused.

This is part 3 of a series of blogs for National Cyber Security Awareness Month.

For more information on various topics, check out:

Week 1
5 Ways You Didn't Know You Could Get a Virus, Malware, or Your Social Account Hacked
How To Choose a Secure Password
How To Avoid Identity Theft Online
How To Protect Yourself From Phishing Scams
How To Protect Yourself From Cyberstalkers

Week 2
Mobile Scams: How-to Identify Them and Protect Yourself
Exactly How Free Is That Free App?
BYOD And Protecting Your Mobile Workforce
Cyber Security Concerns and Smartphones

Week 3
Keeping Your Mobile Fitness Data Secure
Security Concerns and the Connected Car
The Connected Home- Just How Safe Is Convenience?

Week 4
Securing Employee Technology, Step by Step
Are Your Vendors Putting Your Company’s Data at Risk?
Four Mobile Threats that May Surprise You
Theft-Proof Your Mobile Data
Traveling? Don’t Let Your Mobile Data Stray

Week 5
How Do Cybercriminals Get Caught?