Identity Thieves: How They Do it and How to Stop Them

*This blog was originally posted on The Intuit Network

We look both ways before crossing the street. We lock our doors at night. We bundle up in the cold. But when it comes to our personal information, are we doing all we can to keep it safe and secure?

Data Privacy Day, a day that promotes privacy awareness and education, is being celebrated Saturday, January 28. In support of Data Privacy Day here are five tips from Intuit to help you protect data.

If it’s too good to be true, it probably is – Beware of phishing scams. They come in two forms – via social networking sites and email. The messages often look authentic and appear to come from a friend or connection, legitimate company or government agency. To entice you via email, they often claim an urgent or threatening condition concerning your account, or offer you a prize or reward as a way to obtain your personal information. Some clues to watch for: these often contain misspellings, or the grammar isn’t quite correct. On social networking sites, the post or invitation may look incomplete and often invites you to “check out this cool video.”

The goal is the same – to steal your information. If in doubt, do not reply or click on links without verifying the request is legitimate through another channel, such as a company’s official website, Twitter handle or the social network support site. Websites like www.snopes.com can help demystify some of the urban legends or too-good-to-be-true offers.

Don’t lose it if you lose your mobile device – If you lose your mobile device, report it immediately to your carrier or your employer, if it’s owned by your company. Go online and change passwords for financial and personal accounts to prevent any identity theft or fraud.

Be passionate about passwords – Use syllables or acronyms. Avoid using complete words that appear in any dictionary regardless of the language. One option is to start with the first letters of a familiar phrase. For example, “Mary had a little lamb” becomes Mhall, which could be part of a secure password. Check out the list of the worst passwords of 2011 from SplashData.

Get what is yours for free – Identity theft occurs every day, and is particularly high during tax season when volumes of personal information, such as W2s, are being circulated. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the nationwide consumer reporting companies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months. Monitor your credit report to help spot identity theft and keep your personal information accurate and current. Visit www.annualcreditreport.com for more information.

Location, location, location – You’re working on a report and need some fresh air and inspiration. So you decide to work at a coffee shop for the afternoon. Are you protecting your company’s data out of the office? Is your screen visible as you step away for your second latte? Mobile devices need to be secured at all times. Set passwords on the device and on any mobile applications that offer that capability. You can also attach a privacy screen to your laptop or mobile device to discourage wandering eyes. Remember, the person next to you might be might be out for more than just a cup of coffee.

As technology changes, so do the opportunities to make your data work for you in new and exciting ways. And these advances in technology are often accompanied by increased data threats. Intuit’s chief privacy officer, Barb Lawler, an advocate for customer privacy says, “The best defense is staying current on ways to protect yourself and remaining in control of your data.  Know what data you have, what data you choose to make public, and take steps to protect it.”

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