Have you ever received a phone call from your credit card company asking to verify a strange purchase, possibly made at an obscure vendor in a place you’ve never been?
You may find yourself wondering who stole your credit card information, how they stole it, and most importantly what you can do to keep your information safe in the future. You’re not alone. According to Javelin’s Identity Fraud Report, 13.1 million people were victims of identity theft in 2015, which resulted in $15 million in losses. On average, consumers lost approximately $1,585 per incident. Between 2010 and 2016, a total of $112 billion has been stolen by fraudsters. These criminals wouldn’t be involved in such lucrative illegal activities if people took measures to safeguard their identities. Remember, a little caution can go a long way to protecting your information.
Best Professional Practices
Organizations must continually develop their policies to protect customers, vendors, and employees against identity theft. Even if you have identity theft countermeasures in place, you may still be at risk if you’re not actively following prevention protocols.
- Keep Passwords Private and Hidden — avoid sharing passwords among coworkers or storing passwords on easily accessed notes. Passwords that can be stolen will be stolen.
- Keep Personal and Professional Information Separate — what is stored on a company device is accessible to the company, just as anything accessible on a personal device can be accessed by the owner. When personal information and professional data are present on the same device, a fraudster who gains access to either side will compromise both you and your organization.
- Don’t Be Fooled by Phishing Emails or Impersonators — criminals use an attack called “spear phishing” that targets specific groups of people. Criminals will use a trusted executive or senior manager’s name (often obtained from a public website) and send email appearing to be from that manager to their employees. Opening the included links or attachments will compromise the user’s computer.
Smart Tips for Home
The policies in place at work also apply to home. However, because people generally provide more financial information through their personal computers, these become a greater risk for identity theft.
- Use Security Software on Home Computers — anti-virus, malware protection, and firewalls are essential to protect your home computer systems. Don’t assume your computer came with security software when you bought it.
- Vary Your Passwords — don’t use the same password for multiple websites. Fraudsters are aware that people do this and will try a working password on every site you use. Consider a secure password manager such as LastPass or KeePass to make it simple to have a different password for every account you use.
- Password Protect Your Wi-Fi and Avoid Public Networks — don’t give fraudsters free access to your personal Wi-Fi, and don’t conduct private business on public Wi-Fi. Anybody who is on the same network as you may be able to capture your data.
- Don’t Over-Share on Social Networking Sites — too much personal information on social media can help criminals bypass security questions. For example, some credit card companies require a zip code for verification. This information can be easily obtained if you list your hometown on Facebook.
- Don’t Share Your Social Security Number When Shopping — always try to use another form of identification where possible, or find out why it’s needed and how it will be protected.
- Purge Old Financial Records and Keep Current Records Protected — it doesn’t matter if the financial statements are paper or electronic, don’t keep them in unsecure locations and destroy anything you can be certain you will never need. Old electronic statements should be deleted and paper statements should be shredded. All records you keep should be kept in secure and/or encrypted storage (e.g. a password-protected folder for electronic statements or a locked filing cabinet for paper statements).
Simple Caution Goes a Long Way
Every security measure can be broken. With so many targets to choose from, though, identity thieves will usually go after the easiest targets. By making yourself even slightly more secure, you minimize the return a fraudster can expect from trying to steal your information and give them a reason to move on. Identity theft is avoidable and preventable. Use sound judgment — if something seems questionable, it probably is.