Identity theft

How to Protect Yourself From Identity Theft

We live in a digital age where all sorts of personal information is stored on our cell phones, computers, and even in the chips of our credit cards. This has opened us up to the possibility of a security breach… and, in turn, identity theft.

identity theft

Over the years, the frequency of identity theft and fraud complaints has continued to increase, and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. It’s important to be informed as to what identity theft actually is and how you can protect yourself. That way, you can prevent this growing crime from happening to you.

Before we discuss ways to protect yourself from identity theft, let’s take a look at how it can happen in the first place.

How Your Identity Can Be Stolen

There are a number of ways your identity can be stolen. With the prevalence of the internet and technology, identity thieves are always coming up with new ways to gain your information.

Hacking

Think of all the pieces of technology you own that are connected to the internet: your smartphone, your tablet, your computer, and your TV, just to name a few. Hackers can find ways to get into those devices and install malicious software that steals your information. For example, keystroke-logging software records what you type on your computer and can pick up any personal information you enter. This may mean giving a thief access to your credit card or Social Security numbers.

Hackers don’t only target individuals; they also target large organizations. The retail giant, Target, was hacked in 2013, exposing many of their customers’ names and credit card numbers.

Phishing

Phishing is the act of sending fraudulent emails to people. The sender claims to be from a reputable company, often playing on fears in order to get the receiver’s personal information.

Two common phishing emails include a “bank” asking you to verify your account and an “email provider” claiming you need to change your password (often claiming that they believe your account has been compromised, and that this password update is a security measure). Email providers have picked up on this scam, thankfully. Gmail will display an alert above an email it believes may be phishing. They may not pick up on each instance, though, so it’s smart to check the sender’s actual email address, avoid clicking links in emails of which you are unsure, and never sending your personal information in a response.

Identity thieves target people by phone and text message, as well. The terms for those acts are “vishing” and “smishing” respectively.

Dumpster diving

Dumpster diving is a technique identity thieves use to retrieve personal information from people’s trash. They search through dumpsters and trash bins looking for mail and other documents that may have personal information they can use. Some common mail pieces that identity thieves may…

How to Decide What to Keep When Downsizing

Having trouble downsizing? You’re not alone. Many of us are attached to our things, and that can cause anxiety when it’s time to clear out the clutter. But when you start looking at your possessions practically — do they all serve a real purpose? — you’ll have a better idea of what stays and what should go. Here are a few suggestions for the former. (See also: 7 Mantras to Sharpen Your Resolve to Downsize and Declutter)

1. Photos

My home is filled with lots of photos because I enjoy having those memories visible at all times. Of course, the other upside to keeping your pictures when downsizing is that they barely take up any space. The framed photos do, of course, but frameless photos hardly require any real estate in your home. In fact, I have hundreds of pictures in an old shoe box that go back more than 20 years. And that’s all I’ll ever need for real-world photo storage, especially nowadays.

If you want to preserve your photos even further and eliminate the shoe box or album altogether (because there is a chance it could get lost or destroyed, especially if stored in a basement or attic), scan everything into your computer. If you feel the task is a bit more than you’re willing to take on, consider sending the hard copies off to a professional photo-scanning operation — there are plenty of options online at various price points — that will take on the grunt work for you and send back a flash drive or DVD of your digitized photos. (See also: 12 Smart Ways to Organize Old Photos)

2. Clothing

Twice a year I go through my closets to edit my wardrobe. Anything I haven’t worn in a year gets the boot along with items that look worn, torn, or otherwise out of style. I know I keep way more than I should, but dressing nicely is important to me, so I justify the abundance that I have because it makes me happy.

If you’re not emotionally attached to your clothing, but still have too much of it, start thinking about the items as function and not fashion. Start with a base of two weeks’ worth of clothes — pieces that are good for work, weekends, and leisure time. That includes undergarments, pants, shirts, and other daily pieces. I’d suggest this strategy for all four seasons so you have items that will carry you through the entire year and whenever you travel.

Next, focus on the specialty items — like your wedding, funeral attire, and suits for business meetings. Keep one outfit for each and eliminate the rest. You need a couple pairs of shoes, too — ideally dress shoes, sneakers, and a pair of boots. Once you set all that aside, revisit your closet and pick a couple pieces you really…

18 Surprising Ways Your Identity Can Be Stolen

Most people have already been victims of the most basic forms of identity theft — having fraudulent charges on your credit card. Those even less lucky have been victimized in more aggressive ways, with criminals obtaining medical care, working, and flying in our names.

Unwinding that mess can take years and thousands of dollars. The effect is exacerbated by the fact that the crime doesn’t generally stop with the one person who stole your information. Credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, and other data gets packaged and sold on the underground Internet so that different people all over the world could be impersonating you at the same time.

“It’s a pain. It does cause a lot of stress,” said Lindsay Bartsh, of San Rafael, California, who said that straightening out a web of fraudulent medical bills, flights, job applications, and credit applications took every minute of her free time for a year.

How does it happen? Here’s a look at both the most common ways thieves steal our data, as well as some of the newest ploys to watch out for.

1. Mail Theft

Bartsh believes this time-honored tactic is how her personal information got out into the criminal underworld. An expected W-2 tax form never arrived. Assuming it was stolen, it would have given thieves a wealth of information, such as Social Security number and workplace.

2. Database Hacks

When a large corporation gets hacked, the effect can be widespread. When the U.S. government’s Office of Personnel Management was breached, some 22 million people had their personal information exposed. (I was one of the many who received a warning about this, because I had a writing contract with a government agency.)

3. Malicious Software

If you have a virus on your computer, you may suffer more than a slowdown or a system crash. Some malicious programs that spread as viruses record every keystroke you type, allowing thieves to find out your online banking username and password. These programs can infect your mobile phone as well as your computer.

4. Search Engine Poisoning

This is a sneaky way of tricking people into giving up their own personal data, or getting malicious software onto a person’s computer. The criminals create a fake website similar to a real one, or that could plausibly be a real one.

One tactic is for you to click through to the fake site and try to buy a product, entering your credit card or debit card number. Another way they try to get you is for you to unknowingly download information-stealing software onto your computer.

Where does the search engine part come in? These criminals manipulate Google and other search engines’ algorithms to get their phony sites ranked high in search listings, leading users to believe they must be legit. Fortunately, Google has made progress in preventing this in recent years, but it still happens.

5. Phishing

Phishing is a term that broadly means “fishing” for personal information through a variety of common social interactions — so-called “social engineering.” The most common phishing attack happens when you get an email that looks like it came from your bank or another legitimate company. It may come with an alarming subject line, such as “overdraft warning” or “your order has shipped.” When you click a link in the email, you may see a login screen identical to your normal login, which will trick you into entering your username and password. You could also be asked for more identifying details, such as Social Security number and account number.

Fortunately, banks have put some countermeasures into place to fight phishing. You can also protect yourself by not responding directly to incoming messages. If you get an email that looks like it’s from your bank, type your bank address into your browser instead of clicking the link, sign in, and check your account’s message center. Or just call your bank’s customer service number.

6. Phone Attacks

The Internal Revenue Service has been warning for several years that scammers are calling people claiming to be the…