Identity Theft Tricks and Traps to Avoid - Part II: Virtual Safeguards

In our last post, we launched a series of best practices you can employ to protect yourself against identity theft and the financial damage done by it. We started with some ideas on how to secure your printed paperwork. Today, let’s go online to where, let’s face it, much of the most motivated mischief has moved.

There are two main strategies we’ll cover in this and our next post. Today, we’ll explore ways to be on the offense when thwarting attacks on your personal identity. After that, we’ll look at how to build a strong defense by being careful where you click out there.

Criminals who are after your online identity will …

Look for easy access

Just as the best home security system money can buy won’t help if you’ve left it disarmed, your first line of protection is only as strong as the password protection you’ve established to foil electronic “break-ins.” You may not be able to overcome every threat, but don’t make it easy for them by omitting a secure set-up.

Jiggle at your locks

For starters, no online device you own should be without a password. This includes your computers as well as your mobile phones and WiFi routers. Increasingly, when possible, your “Internet of Things” should be secured as well – those printers, televisions, refrigerators and such that are increasingly talking to a centralized mother ship. Passwords only protect you if you use them.

Wiggle into your windows

Beyond your devices, no online login should be left insecure either. The more sensitive the stash – such as financial, credit card and online shopping accounts – the more essential it is to practice good password protection. Convenience is nice, but strong security is nicer.

Pick at your passwords

Not just any old password will do, either. In fact, a strong password really shouldn’t be a word at all. Some of the basics here: Think nonsensical, mixed-case combinations of eight or more letters, numbers and special characters. | Change your passwords regularly. | Don’t use the same password for multiple accounts. | DON’T WRITE THEM DOWN ANYWHERE. | Last but not least, use password management software so you don’t go nuts trying to remember all of this. Good passwords are as essential as good locks for protecting your most valuable possessions.

Peek into your private life

In our last post, we mentioned how important it is to keep your personal information … well, personal. The more informational “crumbs” criminals can pick up on you, the more likely they will figure out a way to put them together and rip you off. Remember that when you’re sharing the latest about your life out in social media land. A rule of thumb: Your real friends and family already know your birthday, your vacation plans and your kids’ names. Be aware of how and with whom your social media information is being shared.

Comb through your throwaways

Just as criminals won’t hesitate to “dumpster dive” into your physical trash, they’re also on the look-out for your online throwaways. If you’ve got accounts you’re no longer using, close them out. Also be careful about disposing equipment. You may think you’ve wiped clean your obsolete computer or old mobile phone, but you’d be amazed what a clever thief can retrieve from an abandoned device. Even old printers and fax machines can be treasure troves of stored data. When disposing of old equipment, consult a professional on current practices for truly trashing it.

Attack the weakest links

There’s no reason you have to go it alone on your security. Financial professionals (like yours truly), online merchants, social media vendors, government agencies, and many other reputable resources have a lot of vested interest in helping you protect yourself from identity theft. Use the security measures available to you! For example, use two-step verification whenever it’s offered. | Sign up for account alerts (such as transaction notifications from your bank), and don’t ignore them if you receive one. | Take advantage of available social media security protections to limit who can see your posts and personal information. We’re all in this together. Keep reading this series – and call us if we can answer any questions.

Next up, we’ll cover an array of “click tricks” you can use to defend yourself against malicious attacks when you’re out and about online.

By: Jennifer Vachon | 2 comments

Identity Theft Tricks and Traps to Avoid - Part I: Protecting Your Paperwork

Identity theft. It’s as old as the Bible, but as applicable as ever today. Since most identity theft ultimately targets both your financial and emotional well-being, it’s way more than just annoying. While our core business practices demand ongoing vigilance to protect our clients’ records, there also are plenty of ways YOU can help safeguard against identity theft.

It begins by knowing what we’re up against. So, today, we’re launching a series to talk about the tricky identity theft traps that are tripping people up these days, and what you can do to avoid them yourself.

Let’s begin with your personal paperwork. Even though printers may not be as prevalent as they used to be, most of us still produce and possess piles of paperwork wherever we go. What treasures can an identity thief find in our trash? You may be surprised!

Criminals who are after your identity will…

Accumulate the crumbs

You may assume that you’re safe because you’ve never experienced an obvious heist of your personal information. You’ve never come home and found your front door hanging open, or had your wallet pickpocketed, so you figure you’re okay. Unfortunately, today’s dens of thieves know how to patiently pick and package seemingly random crumbs of information – until, one day, they’re ready to take a full bite out of your personal pie. Think of protecting your pieces of personal information in a holistic defense.

Dive into your dumpster …

… and your mailbox, your glove compartment, your gym locker, under your office desk, in your coat pockets, out of your shopping cart … you get our drift. From print-outs to personal identification to receipts and related records, if you leave paperwork lying around where anyone else can get at it, you’ve put that information in harm’s way. If it’s about you and you’re trashing it, shred it first. If you’re stashing it, lock it down.

Piece together puzzles

Think your family knows you well? Even your mother may not have as much on you as a hard-working criminal can piece together over time. Your legal name and nicknames, your birthday, where you went to high school, your kids’ and pets’ names, your favorite color, your hobbies and interests, travel plans, an account number or two .... There aren’t many pieces of information an identity thief can’t use and abuse to create a big-picture view of you. Assume every piece of personal information you own is worth protecting.

Be people you know

Did you catch the 2002 movie “Catch Me If You Can,” based on the true tale of former teenage con artist Frank Abagnale Jr.? In real life, Abagnale has since dedicated his career to foiling future cons. In one of his free documents, “Protecting Your Credit,” he observes that lost or stolen wallets is the most common way criminals steal information, but “friendly theft” from people you know – friends, family and co-workers – is not too far behind. While there’s a fine line between prudence and paranoia, not everyone you know is your best friend. An ounce of prevention prevails.

Pose as people you don’t know

Con artists also often trick you into handing them the proverbial keys to your private doors by posing as people who have reason to collect your information. In future posts, we’ll talk about the many electronic posers out there; here, it’s worth mentioning that just because someone is looking you in the eye when they request information from you does not mean you must comply with the request. You have nothing to gain by divulging unnecessary personal information to strangers … so don’t do it.

Often leave a paper trail

Identity thieves often leave tell-tale clues behind that don’t quite pass the sniff test.  For example, what if your mail has been tampered with, isn’t showing up as expected, or includes other fishy discrepancies (credit cards you never applied for, transactions you don’t remember doing, etc.)? While identity thieves can be very tricky, there’s no reason you can’t be tricky right back. If something strikes you as suspicious, don’t ignore it report it.

Commit crimes of opportunity

As we touched on above, there are few places identity thieves won’t go and few tactics they won’t try to find what they’re looking for. Even if they come up empty-handed 99 times out of 100, it’s those 100th times that feed their need. When you go out, carry only the personal information and paperwork you need at the time; leave extra cards secured at home and keep an eye on what you do have. The more basic precautions you take to prevent crimes of opportunity, the less likely you’ll be the next victim.

Next up, we’ll take a look at electronic identity theft and some of the additional precautions to be aware of when you go online.

Bonus: We've received a safety tip from one of our readers that we think is important to share, from his own words: 
"Also be aware of mail forwarding notices. My son received a notice from Canada Post that his mail was being forwarded. Upon further checking, a number of credit cards were created in his name unbeknownst to him with the PIN notification letters going to the new address as a result of the mail re-direction. Fortunately we caught it in time."

By: Jennifer Vachon | 2 comments