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Identity Theft — Keep Your Name to Yourself

Identity Theft remains a major crime that can be catastrophic to American businesses and individuals.  In 2010, Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book reported that consumers filed over 1.3 million fraud claims and lost over $1.7identity theft, fraud, consumer sentinel network data book, fraud case, avoiding identity theft, protecting your identity billion because of identity theft.  Debt collection, Internet services and lotteries are the more predominant predators.  Statistics by Javelin Strategies, a prominent firm that provides identity theft reports, said this cunning crime rose 11% in 2008-2009 meaning that one in every 20 Americans experienced losses through the year.

In April 2011 hackers got through to Sony Corp.’s Playstation Network making over 77 million accounts vulnerable for personal data.  On March 30, Epsilon, an online marketing company, hackers got email addresses and customer names for millions of clients of  US Bank, Chase bank, Wal-mart, and other companies.  While both companies stated that compromise of their client’s accounts was minimum to zero, clients were still made aware of measures to take to minimize personal data loss.  In each case of identity theft, the consumer should be aware of possible attempts to obtain more data from potential thieves.

Be aware of your email Inbox.

Once aware that your email data is stolen, it is up to you to protect yourself from further damage.  Monitor your incoming emails and talk to those naive Internet users who are more vulnerable and may not understand how phishing scams or Internet fraud scams work.

  • Never provide your personal or financial data through email links or phone numbers provided in emails, even if they appear to come from your bank, insurance company or other possibly reliable source.  Instead, contact the company using numbers you know or through their specific web sites found outside of the provided email links.
  • Contact your financial institution, insurance agent or credit source personally using phone numbers or email address on the backs of your credit cards, from your statements or from their specific web site.
  • Beware of social engineers–those who call you and ask for personal and financial information over the phone.  Most banks will not call directly to ask for information.  Instead, tell them you will call the bank directly using the numbers you have or that you will visit the branch personally.
  • Don’t email personal or financial information. If you want to use an online web site to pay a bill or purchase something, look for the secure indicators on the web site — a lock icon on the browser’s status bar, a secure data indicator such as an “https://” in the URL address.  If you have any doubts, don’t complete the transaction.
  • Review credit card, bank statements and financial records monthly and report any suspicious activities.  Although some financial institutions may contact you if suspicious activity is suspected, many may not.  Awareness of your account activity can prevent loss and aid in recovery of fraudulent access to your account.
  • Use a trusted Internet security system to protect your data.  Most Internet security software includes a firewall that blocks access to your data.  You become invisible online.  While you may receive notices that hackers have attempted to access your system, a good Internet security system will block the attempt keeping your data safe and secure.  Internet providers include Kaspersky, McAfee, Norton and many others that can be located through a good Google search.
  • Forward spam that may be phishing scams to spam@uce.gov and to the bank or company that may be fraudulently represented in the email.  Companies that know their data may be compromised will increase their information to ensure client security and prevent a breach.
  •  If you believe you have been scammed, contact the Federal Trade Commission to file a complaint: ftc.gov.  Provide as much detail as possible and then visit their Identity Theft web site to learn more on how to proceed to handle your situation.

These are only a few of the myriad of ways hackers use to acquire personal and financial information for Identity Theft purposes.  With more consumer awareness, Identity Theft can be prevented despite the breach of company databases that reveal information.  Using caution and knowing how to identify potential schemes, your identity will remain yours alone and using the Internet will be a safer way of communication to a global audience.