Identity theft: don’t let someone else be the “new you”
It’s a fact of doing your job that you spend much of your day (and evening) on your computer: email, websites, social media. Like Hansel and Gretel, though, everywhere you go online you are leaving a trail of breadcrumbs back to your door – some of that trail comes from your having to snack on “cookies” in order to access some websites that you use for business and research, while other parts come from having to set up and log into online accounts. Unfortunately, there’s a pest of a non-animal nature that follows those crumbs back to your door.
The most recent survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics noted that 17.6 million Americans – that’s 7.6% of the population 16 years or older – experienced some form of identity theft in 2014.1 Fast forward to 2016 and not a month goes by without a company being hacked, email accounts compromised and personal information at risk – and we’ve heard the stories of the ways peoples’ lives have been damaged by these breaches.
It’s a fact of the times: we spend most of our lives online and as hard as the computer experts try to keep us safe, there always seems a way for someone to get around their security. As the saying goes, build a better mousetrap and they’ll start building better mice.
While you can’t 100% protect the “cheese,” there are things you can do to keep it as safe as possible from “prying paws.” Here are just three:
- Monitor your finances – Keep regular tabs on your bank, credit card and other financial accounts, as well as your credit scores, to ensure you catch any suspicious activity. Most financial institutions let you set up alerts triggered by such activity.
- Protect your passwords – More than keeping your passwords safe, it is important to create ones that are difficult to break and to regularly change them – also, do not use the same password on different accounts, etc.
- Take care what you share – Be suspicious of anyone asking for your personal information – Social Security number, birthdate, etc. – online or over the phone.
There are also a number of companies that provide identity theft protection (none of which were studied for purposes of this article) that you can consider – and be as vigilant in vetting them as you are in protecting your vital information.
Again, no method is foolproof but you can take steps to minimize your opportunities for attack and reduce the negative effects – so stop reading this article and start changing your passwords!
- “17.6 Million U.S. Residents Experienced Identity Theft in 2014,” Bureau of Justice Statistics, September 27, 2105, http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/press/vit14pr.cfm.