Identity Theft: What To Know?
These days, identity theft is becoming more and more of a fact of life. If you’re reading this and you’ve yet to be affected by it, chances are good you at least know someone who has.
And it’s becoming increasingly easy to do so, for an increasing number of reasons. One of the easiest ways for identity thieves to get your data or to get loans, credit cards, and other money in your name is dumpster diving. You’d be surprised the lengths people will go to for their next score. And the surprising thing is, dumpster diving by and large, is perfectly legal. Under the law, once you take your trash to the curb of throw it into a public dumpster, it becomes public domain, and anyone can look through it at any time they see fit. In fact, once you take your trash to the curb, police don’t even need a warrant to search through it. So all those credit card, personal loan, car loan and other offers you get in the mail, all an identity thief has to do is fill out the information in your name, replace your address with their own, and voila, they’ve got a loan in your name. but is in their bank account. All they have to do is drain out the money as quickly as they can, skip out on paying, and you’re stuck with the bill because as far as the bank or credit card company is concerned, you’re on the hook unless and until you can prove that it was someone else that did it to the authorities.
Another surprisingly easy method is social engineering. In simplest terms, a person will call you from an official-looking number, or talk to you in person who looks sufficiently professional with what appear to be the appropriate credentials or name badge, and glean personal information out of you by asking leading questions. It’s surprisingly effective because the most common passwords for things such as email addresses, bank accounts, and even people’s phones have something to do with people’s kids, their pets, or other close relatives. This is all the more reason to avoid making passwords out of such things, since once they get these passwords and can access your accounts, they can suck your bank account dry before you’re even aware of it. They can pretend to be from your bank, from the police department, a relative, etc., and a cursory search on the Internet and they have more information about you, thanks in no small part to social media, information sites like WhitePages.com, and the list goes on. And some sites, you can pay a small fee, and get every bit of information about someone, including where they live, their Social Security Number, past addresses, their car’s make & model, and so on & so forth… you get the idea.
So what can you do to avoid identity theft? First of all, when you get one of those per-approved offers, don’t just throw it away in the trash, shred it. And not with one of those run-of0the-mill shredders. Make sure to purchase one that diamond cuts, since it will render anything shredded virtually impossible to reassemble. Also, don’t sign up for every single credit card offer you come across, no matter how pushy the salesperson may be. The more credit cards one has, the greater the chances the number will be stolen and used to provide the identity thief with a free trip to Tahiti on your dime.
Also, and this is very important, don’t use the names of your kids, pets, your hobby or anything easily discernible as a password. And when you do make a password, use pneumonics instead of words. For example, you can use the pneumonic “Dammit Jim, I’m A Computer Guy, Not A Plumber” and do it like so: dJ!@CgN@9, switching out random letters for special characters and numbers, and also capitalizing some letters, leaving others as lower case. This foils password crackers, since many of them use banks of common words and phrases (all the more reason you should NEVER use Password123 as your password since that’s one of the more obvious ones), and it also makes it more difficult for computers to crack since not only does it have to do lower case letters, it’s gotta try upper case letters, numbers and special characters, which make the password incredibly more complex. Plus, changing your password regularly helps immensely, since doing so at least 4 times a year, cuts down the chances of people figuring it out an already difficult password quite significantly.
Getting identity theft protection from companies like LifeLock may also help, since while the methods above will help cut down significantly on the instances if ID theft, it can’t prevent all of them, and companies like these can be a big help, since going through rebuilding your life after the Hell that is ID theft can easily overwhelm anyone.