Though you could physically have your personal information stolen, we are more likely to experience online identification theft now that the majority of us participate in internet shopping and social networking websites. Because the theft is virtual, detection is tricky and fraud can happen at a blink of an eye: unauthorized electronic transfers using stolen information could potentially empty your bank account(s) or someone could establish new credit lines with your personal information.
In any case, prevention is a good way to start. Here are a couple of steps that can help protect your identity online.
1. Avoid obvious passwords such as birthdates, pet names, etc. and use a mixture of upper and lowercase letters followed or preceded by numbers or symbols.
2. Use anti-virus and firewall programs and keep them up-to-date.
3. Check your credit report online via Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion.
4. When a website requests information, fill out the required boxes only and uncheck the boxes related to permission to share information.
5. Feel free to lie if the registration information isn’t essential to the transaction. You can find ready-made answers at www.bugmenot.com.
6. Be sure that you see a lock icon anywhere on your browser when you submit sensitive information. Though the lock icon isn’t a safety guarantee, its absence guarantees the possibility of unauthorized access to your information.
7. Be aware of phishing. Phishing is a fraudulent tactic used to extract sensitive information in the guise of a legitimate source via instant messaging, email, etc. If you receive a suspicious message of this sort don’t click any of the links provided and notify the bank which it purports to be from.
8. Internet Explorer and Firefox both have anti-phishing features. Be sure to use them.
9. Optionally, surf with a proxy server. A proxy server acts as a middleman and facilitates the connection between you and the website you wish to access. During this process your identity and IP address remains anonymous. Free proxy servers and paid services are both available online.
Rubenking, Neil J. “Fraud Alert, Twelve Simple Steps to Protect Your Identity Online: Learn How.” FOXNEWS.com. 29 May 2007. PCMAG.com, Web. 18 Sep 2009. <http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,275583,00.html>.