One of the most insidious outcomes of today’s electronic crime is identity theft. Having your identity stolen usually results in months or years unwinding the false and often damaging actions taken by hackers pretending to be you. In many ways, id theft is among the most personally invasive crimes today, and certainly it is when considering the list of electronic crimes.
The road to identity theft is often made up of several small trails that hackers use to “assemble” your identity and use it for financial gain. Hacking email is only one element of the sophisticated e-criminal’s toolkit. They also search and assemble other information found online in social media or in publicly available ‘aggregation’ sites where personal information is gathered from sources including local, county, state, and national information sites.
While much of this information is public, it can be used to augment private information obtained through hacking or through simply buying personal data from criminals housing data from massive breaches involving social security numbers, credit or debit card numbers, or personal login information. Because id theft is the result of a process and not often a single breach of data, the best route to prevention is diligence.
It’s easy to ignore online security because it often involves deliberate and sometimes tedious steps. But failing to follow good security practices will only make it easier for criminals to gather and assemble a “virtual you.” And as has been proven over and over again, once online, information can live forever. To manage the personal risk, standard security practices should be kept in the forefront of your online activity. Among those things you should be doing are the following ten practices:
- Reduce the amount of information you share on social media.
- Change passwords to your financial institutions periodically, whether or not the financial institution requires it.
- Do not use the same password for multiple sites.
- Extend the complexity of passwords by using pass phrases and making them harder to hack such as: Th1$isH^rder2hacK.
- Check your financial institution balances frequently to review transactions.
- Maintain a valid subscription to a virus and malware service on your computers.
- Use options such as out of band authentication when completing online financial or other transactions involving personal information.
- Never go to a site by clicking on a link in an email or attachment – login by going directly to the URL of the site you wish to visit.
- If you suspect your computer has been compromised, take it to a qualified expert for evaluation.
- Back up your computer regularly, keeping several copies from different time frames so that if you are compromised, you can reinstall a previous version.
You can find additional resources online through organizations such as Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, an online consumer advocacy site that provides a host of information to help deter id theft and steps to take if it occurs.
Managing your personal online security does take some effort. But failing to do so may result in id theft that is devastating and will take on a life of its own and one that is difficult to terminate. If you’re looking for immortality, this may not be your best option.