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Better Safe Than Sorry: 10 Ways to Guard Against Identity Theft

identity theft

‘Who the heck would want to be me?’

This is the question I ask myself while watching my colleague neatly putting the early version of our paper through a shredder.

You see, my colleague has history that made her very cautious. This involved breach of privacy and exposure to unwanted attention by a former partner. This more than explains the shredder and her obsessive attention to passwords.

I’m much less careful about all that.

I’m less careful not because of recklessness but because of the firm belief that it’s rather silly to want to be me.

Heck, sometimes I don’t want to be me.

I work with someone who refuses to use Dropbox. His justification?

‘It’s rather easy to hack.’

What? Seriously?

I’d just like to see the face of anyone who hacks my Dropbox. And I bet you ten quid that they will be expiring from boredom within 15 minutes and wishing they never put the effort.

Couple of years back, John and I decided we ought to be a bit more careful with the household documents we discard. You know, all these receipts and bank statements and such. We bought a shredder.

I’m looking at it now. Forgotten in the corner of my study under couple of inches of dust.

Flippancy aside, though, lately I’ve been thinking that may be I’ve been too relaxed about all the issues around protecting my privacy and guarding against identity theft.

After all, identity theft is a fact of life. And now, with all this technology available to us it has become so much easier. After all, only the other day a colleague was telling me that a very able student logged in the exam system as him and extended the essay submission deadline.

Bad stuff happens.

Your personal Internet accounts can be hacked.

Your discarded paper can be of interest to someone.

Your identity can be stolen.

This is why I’ve decided to do this thing for real. No more dusty shredders, no more shabby passwords – even taking the risk to forget them.

Here are ten ways to guard against identity theft and breach of privacy.

#1. Use only strong passwords. Strong passwords are the ones that consist of letters, numbers and symbols. Yep, these are more difficult to remember but well worth the effort. And for goodness sake don’t use obvious stuff like your pet’s name and your son’s birthdate. I’m not a seasoned hacker and even I will try those first.

#2. Manage your passwords well. There are two sides to this one. First, don’t use the same password on all your accounts; this leaves you very exposed. And secondly, change your passwords regularly.

#3. Pay attention to what you write on open forums. Divulging too much information on Facebook, for instance, is always a mistake. Make sure that you always check whether the site asking for your bankcard details is secure. Stuff like that.

#4. Passwords are really personal. Couple of weeks ago my son got in trouble at school: he was accused of writing really silly stuff using a Facebook account linked to him. Thing is, he didn’t (he wasn’t anywhere near his computer at the time the messages were sent.) He was silly enough to share his password with someone who did. My son is thirteen and I thought sharing was silly. You should know better!

#5. Watch your computer. A lot of really bad stuff happens because of malware. Make sure that your computer is protected. Check it regularly and if it starts behaving in funny ways don’t ignore it. Even better, don’t keep really confidential stuff on it; and/or protect it.

#6. Don’t access your bank account from dubious places. Are you using open Internet access? If you are, don’t go anywhere near your bank account.

#7. Make sure that you shred your sensitive documents. I know it’s boring. If you don’t think you’ll do it yourself you can always use commercial shredding companies for both, your personal papers and your business documentation. Oh, and use the closed boxes at work that say ‘For shredding’; even I’ve started to do this.

#8. Careful with ATM machines. There are stories about a number of scams around ATM machines. Make sure that you use a reliable one and if you notice anything suspicious don’t use it.

#9. Pay attention when using public computers. Apparently there are a number of ways to steal information. Have a look and if there are interesting devices plugged in or software you don’t immediately recognise call the IT guys in.

#10. Pray that real professional hackers don’t mark you as a target.

Do you have experience with identity theft? What do you do to keep safe?

photo credit: Scary Identity Thief via photopin (license)

11 thoughts on “Better Safe Than Sorry: 10 Ways to Guard Against Identity Theft”

  1. good post. When I had a business, I was paranoid but, like you, I couldn’t imagine that anyone would regard me as interesting. Recently, I’ve heard of ordinary folk having problems.

    Your post was timely.

  2. Good information and I do all those things. The only problem I ever had was someone in a doctor’s office lifted some of my information and proceeded to steal my identity. I was lucky because it went almost nowhere. I am obsessed with shredding every piece of paper that has my name and address though. No use making it too easy for the occasional person who is just going through my trash.

  3. I had my bank account hacked into (or my debit card, still not sure) a few years ago. I remember logging into my account and seeing $300 missing. I filed a report with the bank and received a new debit card. After the investigation I got my money back but it was an awful experience. I was checking my credit report all of the time after that just to be sure nothing else was compromised.

    • @Jon: Glad it all ended well. And keep checking (though for me checking my credit report won’t work – most of my cards are not sensed by Experian; more on this one another time).

  4. I wish to add to your tip #1. Although the complexity of passwords are important. It is the length of the password that is most important. Nowadays hackers aren’t sitting there at a keyboard trying passwords until they work, they are using a program that just bursts out a bunch of attempts until it gets one that works. For every extra letter, number, or symbol one can add, it makes it significantly harder for someone to get.


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