Safe Finances Online (part 1): Is ID Protection Necessary?

The Internet can appear to be a private place— we Facebook, watch YouTube, and even do banking in seeming seclusion. In reality, the Net is as public as Times Square, and as dangerous as the shadiest parts of any city in the world.

This the first realization in becoming a wise Netizen: if you wouldn’t share it with Jerry on a Central Park bench, then don’t share it online.

The problems are getting worse. In 2009, the amount of money lost to online criminal activity almost doubled in the US. 14% of reported crime was identity theft.

You’ve seen the commercials: ID theft is a boogeyman that inspires fear, and even unnecessary spending.

How does it happen? There are several ways— your ID could be stolen by a virus that scans your computer’s cache for data, then sends it back to the thief. Or, in a scam called “phishing”, you could give it away through a fake web page claiming to be from a bank or company.

So I need ID theft protection, right? Well…

The company LifeLock recently settled a lawsuit with 34 state Attorney Generals over misleading statements about its services. Apparently, their $10/month fee did not include credit monitoring, theft protection, or prevent unauthorized changes to accounts.

What did it do? It made a lot of money for them.

But protecting against online thievery is a lot like its real-world counterpart. It isn’t such an arcane practice that consumers must subscribe to a special service.

Say you take a stroll in Times Square. You put your wallet in your front pocket to keep it close by, and take as little cash as you need. You walk in well-lighted areas. You avoid eye contact with strange people.

Common sense, right? There are equivalents for the online world:

Check your credit report regularly. You get one free report per year from annualcreditreport.com.

Run anti-virus and anti-malware software, and keep it updated.

Regularly delete your computer’s cache and history.

Be skeptical of sites asking for personal info.

Don’t give out private data on public networks, like at libraries and coffee-shops.

Read your credit card bills! Seems like a no-brainer, but some of us don’t.

[And if you caught the reference to The Zoo Story, you win serious kudos.]

Alexander Carl

Alexander Carl

I find it difficult to brag about myself. Too modest? Perhaps.

Anyway: my name is Alexander Carl. I am a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I spent four blissful years earning a degree in Communication Studies. Now I face the real world of economic downturns, student loans, and the absence of “academic” camaraderie.

Yet I refuse to be bummed. My economic philosophy is to live simply, save, and maximize whatever I can. Consumer culture is undeniably pervasive, but you don’t have to sell your soul to co-exist with it— there is great power from using your economic resources wisely.

I started writing when I figured out how to hold a pencil. Since then I’ve written short stories, poetry, screenplays, and have blogged. In fact, three of my screenplays have been produced into short films, two of which I directed. I’m no stranger to the media, having served as a DJ at a freeform radio station and worked as a crew member for live TV.

Pastimes include traveling (I’ll visit virtually anywhere), swimming, jogging, hiking, and hunkering down with a good movie.

Overall I’m a peaceful person, though not in a creepy New Agey way. I get my energy from music, good conversation, and the outdoors (I was an active Boy Scout, earning my Eagle). I consider myself “inquisitive” and “wry”, and for the sake of autobiography I’ll assume that I am.
Alexander Carl

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