According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), identity thieves can obtain information by rummaging through trash or stealing from purses, wallets, mailboxes, or homes. They may also use electronic methods, such as those listed below.
- Phishing relies on pop-ups, spam, and websites that look authentic to obtain personal information, such as log-in information and credit card numbers.
- Pharming uses malicious code to redirect users to fraudulent sites where hackers can access their personal information.
- Pretexting acquires personal information through false and illegal means, for example, obtaining financial information by pretending to call from a bank.
These scams are sometimes accomplished with the use of malware (software designed to damage computers). Spyware, for example, is malware that is used to collect information from a computer without the user’s knowledge. Another type of malware, known as the Trojan horse virus, often appears to be a legitimate download, but can let computer hackers remotely access your computer to steal personal information.
Once identity thieves obtain a victim’s personal information, they may use it to run up charges on credit cards, open additional accounts, take out loans, lease property, or apply for a driver’s license. Fortunately, by changing just a few habits, you can help protect yourself and your family from becoming victims of identity theft.
The number one rule when it comes to protecting yourself from identity theft is pay attention! Many online scams depend on you being fooled by false websites, spam, and offers. Minimize the chance that you will be taken advantage of by closely examining any site that asks for your personal information. For example, look for “https” or a lock symbol in the address bar when making purchases online. This means that you are viewing a secure Web page with the necessary allocations for privacy and protection.
You should also talk to your children about online scamming techniques. Warn them about clicking on pop-ups and downloading programs from unknown sources, as these may be tricks to install malware or get personal information. Also, make sure to have antivirus software and firewall programs installed on your computer. Although these programs are not always infallible, they are essential in helping to keep your personal information private and your computer working properly.
Responding to Identity Theft
Checking your account statements and credit card reports frequently will give you the advantage when it comes to responding to identity theft. If you suspect that you have been a victim of identity theft, file a report with your local law-enforcement agency and the FTC, and place a fraud alert on your credit reports. Promptly close any compromised accounts.