Where is your information located on the internet? How many databases are your social security number, bank account information, name, and address in? How secure is that information really? Computer encryption is getting better and better every year, but we put ourselves at more risk for identity theft every time we fill out an information form on a website and provide our personal information to a company. Let’s face it. Our personal information and details are out there. It is everywhere.
According to a recent survey of 500 American companies, 55% are not securing your personal data other than credit card information, and 52% are not proactively managing privacy and data protection risks. Another interesting statistic is that 79% of the surveyed companies have reported a data breach and 41% of those reporting five or more data breaches. The threat to our information security is real.
But, there are several ways that we can mitigate our exposure to the possibility of identity theft. Reduce your identity exposure on the internet by…
- Use only one credit card for online purchases, and then monitor that credit card statement very closely every month. By limiting yourself to one “internet” credit card that you only use for online purchases and nothing else, you will limit your exposure to someone stealing your information from a website that is not totally secure. And, I personally never use a debit card online either.
- Do not post any of your personal information like your address and phone number online. Be careful what specifics you tweet or post to your “friends” on the internet. There have been several instances of home burglaries that have been associated with tweets on Twitter when people brag about their vacations.
- Limit the amount of financial transactions over the internet and databases that you give your information to. If you must bank and shop online, try and only use the last four digits of your Social Security number instead of the entire thing. Do not be afraid to balk at providing the entire number for companies if you think that they do not legitimately need the number for reporting to the credit bureaus.
- If you throw away any papers that include bank account numbers, social security numbers, and other information that can be used in a fraud, there is a good chance that the data could end up in the hands of identity thieves. Shred all paper that has any information that could possibly be used by people who might be looking to steal someone’s identity.
- Choose a password that includes both numbers and capital and lower case letters. Passwords that have special characters increase the amount of security exponentially. An eight digit password with only lowercase letters can fairly easily be broken with a brute force attack because there are only 210 billion combinations (2.1 x 10^11 power). Two hundred ten billion sounds like a lot but if you require just two capitalized letters in any two places increase the potential combinations by trillions. Change your passwords every few months, and don’t use the same password for all accounts. And, be sure to always log out of your online accounts.
- Only shop at verified merchants online who only have encrypted websites. Look for a website whose URL address for the store begins with “https”, as opposed to just “http”. If it starts with “https”, then it is a secure website that you can feel comfortable purchasing from. The ‘s’ stands for SSL, the secure sockets layer, the type of encryption between web browsers and sites. Many web browsers will also indicated a secure website with a lock icon in the bottom corner of your web browser.
- Review your credit report every year. This way you will be able to see if any unknown accounts have been opened in your name or if there are errors on your credit report. One of the best services for this is Fair Issac’s Score Watch® which provides daily monitoring of your Equifax Credit Report and weekly monitoring of your FICO credit score. It also notifies you when you may qualify for better interest rates, delivers alerts when important changes to your score and report are detected, and shows you key factors affecting your FICO score and how lenders view you. Fair Issac is the creator of the FICO score which is the one credit score that almost every lender uses to evaluate your credit worthiness. Another great service from MyFICO.com is individual FICO® scores and credit reports from Equifax or TransUnion. MyFICO.com is the only place that you can get your real FICO credit score. The company sells the service for $15.95 per report which also includes an explanation of the positive and negative factors affecting your current score and access to the FICO Score Simulator which shows you how actions like paying off an existing account may affect your FICO scores.
- Do not carry your Social Security card and other important papers with you if you can help it. Your number should be locked it in a safe. My family has a small fire-safe for documents such as wills, birth certificates, social insurance cards, passports, and other important documents.
- Keep your computers’ virus protection and firewall software that is installed on your computer system current at all times. Make sure that you are using a good virus protection program. You should set it up to run daily or at least weekly scans. It’s also important to check for updates to your virus software. Virus information changes very often, and it is in your best interest to keep it up-to-date.
- Sign up for an identity protection company such as LifeLock. LifeLock provides a proactive identity theft service, specializing in the prevention of identity theft rather than the reporting of it. They even go as far as offer a $1 million dollar guarantee in which they promise to help you with lawyers and the like if you do become a victim of identity theft while using their services.