When it comes to protecting your identity, an ounce of prevention is worth far more than the amount of money, energy, and agony that goes into getting your life back to normal after your financial and personal information has been stolen. BBB recommends taking the following five steps to prevent ID theft when you are online:
- Don’t fall for a phishing e-mail. Phishing—using e-mail or phone calls to pose as a trustworthy organization in order to coerce sensitive information from victims—is on the rise. Phishing e-mails can look legitimate with graphics and official logos of banks, government agencies or credit card companies. The e-mails usually include links that direct the victim to a website designed to install computer viruses and malicious software (malware), or solicit bank account or Social Security numbers.
In order to prevent ID theft through phishing e-mails, completely delete unsolicited e-mails from banks, credit unions, investment firms and government agencies with which you do not already have an established relationship. If you do have an existing relationship with the supposed originator of the e-mail, call the organization to confirm whether the e-mail is legitimate before taking any further action. The IRS and other government agencies do not use e-mail to contact consumers about any issues or problems that require action on the part of the recipient, so e-mails purporting to be from government agencies should be deleted immediately.
- Create strong passwords and protect them. Regularly changing passwords makes it much more difficult for ID thieves to steal personal information. Some passwords, however, are stronger than others. Strengthen your passwords by using a combination of numbers, capitalized letters and symbols. Never use sensitive or easily discovered information for a password such as your Social Security number, mother’s maiden name or birthday.
- Be safe and secure when on the go. Be wary of entering passwords or sensitive information into a computer that isn’t yours, such as at an Internet café, library, computer lab or airport kiosk. Hackers can easily record user’s keystrokes to learn passwords and other information.
Wireless networks, either on the road or in your own home, present even more opportunities for ID thieves. The easiest way to protect a wireless network at home is change its default identifier and password, and turn off identifier broadcasting. Also, avoid exchanging sensitive information through the Internet when using a “hotspot” or public wireless connection.
- Guard personal computers with antivirus, spyware, and firewall protection. You can purchase protective software, but there are also a number of reputable, free programs available. Do your research into a company beforehand to make sure it provides legitimate, reliable software. Many computer operating systems already provide firewall protection, so make sure this protection is enabled.
After acquiring or activating security software, keep the programs updated. Operating systems also require patches and other updates that must be installed in order to keep your computer secure.
- Only transfer information over a secure server. When it comes to giving out personal information online, only do so on a secure server. On a secure server, the information is encrypted as it is being transmitted; that way, others can't read it if they should intercept it.
When asked to give any personal information, check the Web page address to make sure you are on a secure server. An unsecured URL will look like this: http://www.###.com. A secure server will have an "s" either in front of or following the "http", and it will look like this: https://www.###.com or shttp://www.###.com.
For more trustworthy information on preventing ID theft, as well as BBB advice on what to do if your identity is stolen, visit bbb.org.