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Nine Ways To Protect Yourself From Identity Theft And Cyber Fraud

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.

Related: Online Fraud Campaign Helps Protect Investors

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.

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.

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8 Comments

  1. Bet Crooks on February 22, 2013 at 8:12 am

    No one said your answers to those silly questions has to be real. I enjoy answering them with something that doesn’t even make sense:

    “What colour was your first car?”
    “Syracuse.”

    The question that the bank asked me that really stumped me once was “What was your apt number 5 addresses ago.” At the time they asked we’d not lived in an apartment in over 12 years! All I was trying to do was activate a new credit card. It’s a bit spooky to realize that they keep info on you that you yourself have long since forgotten. (I got it right, but only by fluke.)

    • Echo on February 22, 2013 at 8:46 am

      @Bet – I like that, using some obscure answer. Problem is, I’d never remember how clever I was when I first set up my password 🙂

      My old employer had a good system where they’d force you to update your password every 3-4 months and you couldn’t reuse the same password for about a year.

  2. Koala on February 22, 2013 at 9:38 am

    Another thing to watch on sites like facebook is determine your ___ name (stripper, star wars, whatever). They usually use PVQs that you’re directly sharing.

  3. Joe on February 22, 2013 at 9:48 am

    I’ve actually implemented an important anti-fraud measure since I moved into my new house. It’s not a stunningly unique idea but I didn’t see it in this list so I should probably share: a locking mailbox. You’re right, it’s an extremely important topic; I think I should do a post about that tactic.

    • Bet Crooks on February 22, 2013 at 1:33 pm

      You have home delivery?!! LUCKY!
      (“Community” mail boxes are locked: until the first strong wind blows.)

  4. Lacy @EarnVerse on February 22, 2013 at 5:09 pm

    Great post! I hadn’t thought as in depth about the potential hazards of how some of your online profiles could be used in conjunction to hack each other. I have my stuff on lock-down, but good thing to keep in mind anyway.

  5. Tushar @ Everything Finance on February 23, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    Identity theft has been a serious problem with the rise in internet usage. It’s been much easier to be an identity thief these days. Protecting yourself against fraud is very important!

  6. Jerry on February 24, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    The chip and pin thing is big in Europe and I think it’s a bit more insurance against this kind of stuff. It will lead to more peace of mind.

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