By Elspeth Crawford
According to the FBI, identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the U.S., with over 700,000 victims a year. Learning about how it is commonly committed can help you prevent it from happening.
Identity thieves increasingly make use of high-tech methods to poach personal information, but ordinary theft is still a distinct possibility. Identity thieves can go rooting through your trash for identifying information about you, steal mail from out of your mailbox, or simply snatch your wallet or purse from a public place.
If he or she has a good memory, an identity thief can get a prolonged look at your personal information, say your credit card number, in a public place and then memorize that number for later use.
Identity thieves can use small credit card readers to copy and later use the information on a card’s magnetic strip. This practice is called skimming. Skimming most often occurs when people turn their credit cards over to another person who then runs it through a card reader. This doesn’t mean that you have to walk back to the kitchen every time you use your credit card to pay at a restaurant, but be wary of letting your card out of sight at establishments you do not trust.
Phishing occurs when an identity thief sends a fake e-mail to a user claiming to be from an institution which the user trusts. The identity thief might, for example, send a user an e-mail purporting to be from their bank and telling the user that there is a problem with one of their accounts. The user would then be directed to a phony website and tricked into giving away personal information in an attempt to fix the made-up problem.
Related to phishing is pharming, a practice which also makes use of phony websites but does not involve using e-mails to trick a user into visiting those websites. Instead, pharming redirects users to a phony website even if they type the correct website address into their browsers. Careful monitoring of your spam folder and keeping your malware protection current can help protect against phishing and pharming behavior.
Be wary of connecting to the internet via an unprotected wireless network. Such networks are easier to hack into than password-protected networks, and your information could become pray to identity thieves.
Many people keep sensitive information on their hard drives. When it comes time to get a new desktop computer, be sure to erase the data on your hard drive before disposing of it. Otherwise, enterprising identity thieves may be able to rebuild your hard drive and extract information from it.
Likewise, be cautious when taking your laptop out in public. Laptop theft is increasingly common, and thieves can use the information stored in a laptop to your disadvantage. The same applies to Smartphones, which are even easier to steal than laptops.
Many people post personal information on social networking sites like Facebook. You’re unlikely to put something like your social security number of Facebook, but the information you do provide can allow identity thieves to put together a profile of you they could use to get more sensitive information. For this reason, be wary of accepting invitations from people you do not know.
Computer Security Attacks
The reality is that even if you are not careless about your personal information and have it registered only with reputable institutions, you may still be vulnerable to identity theft. Identity thieves can hack into the records of such institutions and steal those records, or someone at the institution could steal them from within. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in the USA documented over 900 data breaches by major firms over a period of three years which resulted in a total of 200 million records being compromised. No method of protection is absolute, but it’s fully within your power to minimize risk. If the worst should happen, know what steps to take following an identity theft.