More and more of our personal information is ending up online these days. Social media has been a big privacy battle ground with several law suits aimed at Facebook in recent years.
Other services like Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and Pinterest are disseminating our personal information to millions of people around the world.
Related: Why Electronic Banking Is Safe
But it’s not just social media; we give up our personal information to lots of other websites when we register for online services like newsletters, discussion groups, loyalty programs, file sharing sites and more.
Who Can Access Your Personal Information?
The distribution of personal information is a reality in today’s world, it’s hard to escape and will probably get worse as the years go on. This means that identity theft will be one of the major online security trends for many years to come.
We give out all kinds of information including our dates of birth, place of work, email addresses, likes, dislikes, names of friends, schools we attended and more. By giving out all of these things, we open ourselves up to identity theft.
To illustrate, let’s take a look at Personal Verification Questions (PVQs). These questions are used as a second factor for authentication to internet services including online banking or as a way to reset your password on many other websites.
These are the questions available for selection from my bank:
Choose a question:
- Your best sport
- First concert you attended
- Your first job
- Your hobby
- Your favorite teacher
- First car you owned
- First vacation outside your country
- Name of your first pet
- Create your own question
Most of these questions could be answered by a bad guy with access to someone’s Facebook page. Chances are there will be pictures of you playing a sport, driving your car or walking your dog.
Armed with this information a criminal could reset your password and take over your email account or other web account.
Related: How To Spot Investment Fraud
Another poor classic question is, “What Is Your Mother’s Maiden Name?”. We may not realize it but there are many women who don’t change their last name for cultural or personal reasons. While the answer to this question might have been “secure” 30 years ago, it certainly isn’t now.
How To Protect Yourself From Identity Theft And Cyber Fraud
So if PVQs and the proliferation of information are so bad, what can we do to protect ourselves?
1) Share less – Instead of putting your entire life out on the internet, hold the more vital details back.
2) Don’t share information that’s related to security questions – If you use PVQs, don’t indirectly share the answers to them!
3) Don’t re-use the same passwords – If you use the same password for every site and one of them gets broken in to, all your accounts are now up for grabs.
4) Make sure your email account is locked down – You may not realize it but your email account is a treasure trove of information for bad guys. Gaining access to your email is the next best thing to having direct access to your bank account. Make sure you utilize all available security features to protect your email.
5) Delete old profiles – If you stop using a social media site or other online service, make sure you delete your account. There’s no telling what could happen in the future so it’s best to have as small a footprint on the Internet as possible.
6) Lock down your social media profiles – Only connect with people you actually know, don’t make your profile public and utilize all the security features you can that are offered from social media sites.
7) Learn to love shredding – Getting into the habit of shredding personal information goes a long way to help you prevent identity theft from local thieves. Shred anything with your name and address on it and any kind of statements. These documents are a gold mine of information for the bad guys.
8) Keep an eye on your credit report – Taking a look at your credit report every once in a while may help you to identify suspicious activity. There are paid credit monitoring services which make this process easier.
9) Title insurance – While identity theft as it relates to real estate is very uncommon, it can be extremely difficult and costly to recover from. Imagine someone taking out a second mortgage out on your home for $400,000!
If you suspect you’ve been a victim of identity theft, report it and take action immediately.
- Canada: Canadian Anti Fraud Centre
- United Kingdom: Action Fraud
- United States: Federal Trade Commission
Remember, identity theft isn’t just about financial loss; someone could impersonate you to do all kinds of nasty things. The more we get in the habit of protecting ourselves, the better off we will be as our world gets more and more connected.
Andrew Martin is a personal finance and investing blogger from Toronto, Ontario with a background in technology and a passion for travel. His blog, She Thinks I’m Cheap aims to help Canadians make more money by sharing facts, stories and advice.