Cybersecurity and personal security: preventing identity theft

VISTA, California,  May 30, 2015 − There are so many areas of our lives where we need to protect ourselves that is sometimes seems overwhelming. Emotional, psychological, and physical abuse are at the top of the list. But we also need to look at the area of financial abuse. In many ways this can be just as damaging as the rest, and we need to know how we can prevent ourselves from becoming the next victims of this rising crime of fiscal abuse.

Stories have steadily emerged where the victims of this seemingly faceless crime find their personal identities may have been breached. Large retail chains, including Target and Home Depot have discovered account information of their clients may have been jeopardized. We just found out this week that even the supposedly ironclad IRS system was compromised, with the tax data of nearly one-million taxpayers apparently stolen, possibly by cybercriminals located in Russia.

Our electronic cyber-world already has various systems in place to ensure our financial information is protected. However, we are seeing quite clearly that those systems are not always effective. So to take the initiative and to protect ourselves, there are things we can do right now to make our personal identification harder for thieves to get hold of.

The easiest counteraction is also one of the earliest ones: hanging and varying our passwords between different accounts on a regular basis. With newer encryption technologies, a strong combination of upper and lower case letters and symbols in newly-created passwords is a good step.

Better yet is creating new password strings consisting of up to 32 characters. This provides more even security, since longer passwords are harder and harder to crack, although not all sites will presently allow passwords of this length.

Also, be sure to refrain from using passwords that contain personal information that can be easily guessed about you.

Another way to protect yourself: stay on top of your credit report information in all three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. These credit agencies offer credit monitoring services and you are also entitled to receive a free annual credit report update from each of them.

You can obtain your credit report by visiting Credit Karma and Credit Sesame  offer free monitoring of your reports as well, although you may be urged to subscribe to associated credit protection and monitoring products at each site.

Checking your report regularly can keep you abreast with anything you may need to dispute that is inaccurate. In addition, should you discover that your identity has been compromised, you can request a “fraud alert” be placed on your information within these agencies.

Another problem area is online banking. Given this country’s slow but steady move toward employing digital technologies for a variety of financial transactions, many of us have grown accustomed to paying monthly bills through online banking services. We can quickly set up automatic deductions to cover items ranging from monthly car payments to readily ordering products via televised infomercials.

Indeed, that ancient form of managing and balancing a checkbook may soon be a distant memory, so monitoring your electronic bank transactions daily can help prevent your hard-earned money from evaporating in an instant.

If a transaction appears in your account that you did not authorize, your bank, once informed, can take strategic steps to reimburse you, suspend the account or card that was misused, and deploy their fraud team in an effort to identify the perpetrator(s) for prosecution and prevent the victimization of countless others.

Even in today’s sophisticated world of cybertheft, identity thieves still may decide to use old-fashioned methods of obtaining your information. You can still lose your data, your identity, or both to criminals who steal your mail or dig through your trash.

To protect yourself in these areas, you should retrieve your mail as soon as possible, or even rent a post office box. Shredding documents containing personal or fiscal information with a crisscross shredder prior to disposal can also help. Shredding documents at home immediately saves you time, keeps your area free of clutter, and can protect your identity in the long run.

If you don’t happen to have one of these relatively inexpensive shredders, don’t forget: there are reputable companies that offer shredding services.

As for your trash itself, putting your trash curbside the night before can give dumpster divers the nightlong advantage of not being seen. Therefore, when you place your trash can or receptacle out on the street for disposal pick up, try to place it out just before the truck comes to haul it away. Should you choose to place it out the night before, try to put it in a well-lit area or place a motion light close by.

Old school methods ranging from stealing your wallet or purse full of credit cards, or surreptitiously skimming your credit card information at ATM machines are still perfectly good ways for less tech savvy thieves to make off with your identity or financial information.

Keep your credit cards in a wallet that has RFID protection, keep your cards and pictured identification on your person, and don’t leave your purse or wallet in your car unattended or otherwise out of your view. Use caution when using your pin number at machines as well.

Creative identity thieves might even show up in person at your front door. These scam artists may pose as some salespeople attempting to sell you a product or service. But they might give themselves away by asking questions like “Are you the owner of this home?” They may also ask for your name and phone number along with the times you are available at home to “schedule” an appointment. The more personal information they obtain, the easier it can be for them trespass into your private affairs.

When an unknown person arrives at your door, ask him or her to provide you with their official photo identification. If they are legit, they should have no problem providing it. If pressed, a typical thief will quickly disappear rather than risk detection.

With regard to your personal information, just don’t give any of it out. To anyone. Should you suspect something is not right, contact your local police department and let them investigate further.

Protecting yourself and your identity is of crucial importance today Make it a regular habit to secure your valuables. Lock your car and your house, even when you are at home. When going to the gym, use a strong metal lock with a key when using their lockers. (Using a cheap one may save you a few bucks now. But in the long run, it can really cost you.

Making an extra effort to protect yourself now can increase your security on many levels, especially when it comes to facing the potential of financial ruin. So do it now.

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