Four Quick Tips for Protecting Your identity

With the incidence of identity theft continuing to rise, especially as more people use electronic media, consumers can take some simple steps to reduce their risk of exposure. There are cases of very sophisticated identity theft schemes, but often, identity crimes are crimes of opportunity, and knowing about some of the most common attacks and scams is definitely a benefit.

At the top of the list of preventive measures: never give out your social security number online. Legitimate websites will not ask for it, so never provide the number on forums or via instant messaging. If asked to provide proof of identity, use a more secure method to communicate that information so that only the individual with a legitimate reason for having that information can access it. An example would be if you are applying for a job.

Another way to avoid common identity theft schemes is to never give out personal information over the telephone unless you initiate the call, to your bank, for example. Never answer so-called “security questions” when answering an unsolicited call. One of the most common scams involves criminals who call as many numbers a possible in attempts to harvest information from those numbers. It is worthwhile for identity thieves to make the attempt if they get useful information from only one of the hundreds of calls they might make.

Identity theft can be avoided in many cases if you never open email attachments you don’t expect. It is not enough to recognize the address of the person sending the attachment. Identity thieves can fake an address and make you think it comes from someone you know. If you receive attachments you are not expecting, take the time to call the sender or send an instant message to confirm that the attachment comes from a legitimate source. Also, never click on a live link in an email. Copy the URL and paste it into the address bar of your browser. Email links are notorious for taking you to a scammer’s website.

Finally, be sure to shred all of your paper mail that you receive via traditional post office deliveries. If you don’t have a shredded, rip the mail into very small pieces before throwing it away. While “dumpster diving” is decidedly low-tech, it remains a common way for identity criminals to get access to your personal information. If a thief can’t read your mail, they can’t get your name, address, or data from your credit card or bank statements to use to impersonate you for their own gain.

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