<firstimage=”//static.makeuseof.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/identity-theft.jpg” />If you have ever experienced digital identity theft yourself or even know someone who has, you know the experience can be a harrowing one. Criminals can open accounts in your name and impersonate you for a multitude of reasons – none of which are good. While thieves have been performing identity theft for a long-time offline the volume of personal information found online is astounding and these days a would-be identity thief only needs to log in from the comfort of his or her home to do their misdeeds.
That leaves the burden upon you to protect your personal information while using the internet. The only perfect way to protect yourself online and prevent identity theft is to not use it at all, but since you are reading this, I will assume that you are pretty net savvy and spend a good deal of time online. Let’s go over some tips to protect and prevent identity theft online.
1. Watch out for Phishing Websites
A Phishing website is one that presents itself as a legitimate business website however in reality is a fake one looking for your information. They may look for a username and password but also could be looking for your name, social security number, address, and other personal information. Be vigilant if a site asks for the following information:
- Social Security number
- Credit card number
- Bank account number
- Driver’s license number
- Home address and phone number
- Health insurance id or information
The request for information could be legit (for example, if you are applying for a credit card); but if it was unsolicited that should be a big red flag. If you have a question whether the site is a real one for a company, visit the organization’s main web page and call their number to ask.
2. Use an Anti-virus/Anti-Malware Program
Backdoors, keyloggers and other nefarious programs can allow entry to your system and they can be installed in any number of ways. The only way to be sure to protect against them is to install both anti-virus and anti-malware; vendors these days often have solutions which include both. For a current list of our top recommended anti-virus and anti-malware programs, check out MakeUseOf’s 10 best anti-virus programs.
3. Use OpenDNS
While OpenDNS is a great way to speed up your internet connection it also has a feature that is less sexy but definitely more practical. That is that OpenDNS makes a great content filtering solution which can alert you when you visit a website which has been marked as dangerous by the awesome Phishtank service.
4. Unique Passwords for Every Website
Another method criminals may use to obtain your personal information is by logging into your email and other online accounts and glean information from there. That is the reason that it is so important to maintain password security across all of your online accounts. Generating a secure password is the first step to prevent identity theft by keeping your accounts secure, and then Lastpass or Keepass will assist you in remembering them.
5. Shop Only at Reputable Websites
While one of the reasons that the internet is so great is that you can find sites that sell about everything, how do you know that a company will keep your information secure? You might check to see if the site is safe using one of the link checkers we mentioned or run it by the Web of Trust who also provides a browser plugin.
6. Don’t Divulge Too Much Personal Information via Social Media
Social media is great and I use it all of the time, so please don’t get me wrong. But be careful how much information you give out to the general public while sharing what you are eating. I’ve seen people check into banks occasionally on FourSquare; this is bad because it lets anyone know who you use for your bank and makes you an easy target for identity theft. The private information listed above should never be divulged on social media sites as well as other information people could use to obtain that private data from you.
7. Monitor Your Credit Profile
Part of being vigilant about identity theft is making sure someone doesn’t already have your information and is using it – the sooner you catch it the better. If you are in the United States you can get a Free Annual Credit Report, if you are in another location your country may offer a similar service.
8. Secure Your Wireless Network
There are a number of reasons to secure your wireless network and one of the main ones is to reduce fraud and identity theft. If you leave your wireless network open (not securing it with WPA encryption) and without a password, not only can an attacker use your network without your knowledge but can also view your website usage. This can allow them to easily build a detailed profile of you (and your family) and the websites you visit. Even if some information is encrypted (your credit card number for example) many sites do not encrypt login information and just the website names alone can help give an attacker information about you. Adding a password to your wireless network protects against this.
9. Only Download Software From Reputable Sources
Similar to only shopping on reputable sites, you should only run software that come from known sources. If you download games/screensavers/warez/cracks from disreputable websites they may include backdoors and trojans that your antivirus may or may not catch. The sites mentioned above are a start but always be aware and of course keep your antivirus updated especially if you frequent those websites.
What Else Can I Do?
There is an always-changing landscape when it comes to how to prevent identity theft. The US FTC and other government entities run a website named OnGuardOnline which has several educational programs for adults and children regarding protecting your information online. Get started there. Be safe!