1. Only Make Purchases On Trusted Sites
When deals seem too good to be true, they just may be–you might be paying as a victim of identity theft when you make purchases on Web sites that aren’t secure. There are lots of small online retailers that don’t have adequately secure payment systems. The best way to make sure that your information doesn’t get intercepted is by simply sticking with trusted, well-known online retailers, or smaller sites that use reputable payment processors like PayPal or Google Checkout. Regardless of which site you use, you should always make sure to look for the padlock icon on the bottom of your browser to verify that the page is safe.
2. Order Your Credit Report
Your credit report is your window into your ID security. The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act. passed by the Federal government in 2003, mandates that each of the major credit bureaus supply consumers with a free copy of their credit report each year. You can get yours at AnnualCreditReport.com (American users only), a Web site run by the credit reporting agencies to comply with this legislation. Your credit report allows you to see whether someone has opened new accounts under your name. (To learn more, see “The Importance of Your Credit Rating” .)
3. Know How To Spot Phishing
Phishing is a technique used by identity thieves to get your sensitive information by pretending to be a site you trust. Phishing schemes are successful because you believe that you’re just signing into your bank or credit card account, when it’s really a ploy to get your important information. When logging into these accounts, make sure that you’re not being asked for any information that you usually wouldn’t be required to provide to log in. Social security numbers and addresses are often red flags. Also, check the url of the site. If you’re accessing a Bank of America account at a Web address that isn’t at bankofamerica.com, it could be a phishing site.
4. Secure Your Network
If you have a wireless network at home or work, make sure that you secure it. A hacker can gain access to anything you do over an unsecured network in a matter of seconds. If you look at the documentation for your wireless router, you’ll be able to find out how to lock your router and encrypt your information. It won’t affect the way you use your wireless network, but it will keep intruders from getting a hold of your information.
5. Can the Spam
Be very leery of “spam” (or junk e-mail) that works its way into your inbox. Not only are these messages often from phishers, but they can also contain Trojan horses (viruses) that can get into your computer and send
your information back to their unsavory creators. If you have the option, install spam-filtering software (or ask your e-mail provider whether it can add spam-filtering to your account). Not only will this cut back on going through your daily pile of junk e-mail, it can also keep your data safe.
6. Don’t Store Sensitive Information On Non-Secure Web Sites
As more and more useful Web applications start springing up (like Backpack, Facebook and Google Calendars), it’s important to make sure that you’re not storing sensitive data on non-secure Web sites. While online calendars, to-do lists and organizers are really useful, make sure that your account numbers and passwords don’t make their ways onto these sites, which often aren’t protected the same way a banking or brokerage Web site would be.
7. Set Banking Alerts
Many financial institutions are beginning to offer e-mail and text alerts when your accounts reach certain conditions (being near overdraft, or having transactions over $1,000, for example). Setting alerts for your accounts can ensure that you find out about unauthorized access as soon as possible.
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8. Don’t Reuse Passwords
As tempting as it may be to reuse passwords, it’s a really good practice to use a different password for every account you access online. This way, if someone does find out what your password is for one credit card. they won’t also be able to access your checking. brokerage and e-mail accounts. It may take a little more organization to use different passwords for each site, but it can help marginalize the effects of unauthorized access to your accounts.
9. Use Optional Security Questions
Like with using different passwords for each account, it’s a good idea to set up optional security questions to log into your accounts. Many financial institutions ask security questions that a third party wouldn’t know, but you can often set up multiple optional questions that can increase the security of your account. Remember to use questions that don’t have answers available by public record. For example, choose questions such as “What was the color of your first car?” over “What city were you born in?”
10. Don’t Put Private Information On Public Computers
These days, identity theft has become commonplace, and people are even afraid to use their own personal computers to access any financial information or purchases online. You can do those things without being taken advantage of by making sure that you keep yourself safe online. (If you think you’ve been the victim of identity theft, see “Identity Theft: What To Do If It Happens” for what to do next.)
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