How to protect yourself from identity Theft
The threat of security breach in data banks is serious. A breach in the system of the American payments processing firm Global Payments back in 2012 led to $35.9 million (€26.5 million) in fraud losses and the exposure of 1.5 million users’ accounts. British telecommunications giant Vodafone also experienced a data breach in September this year that led to the exposure of two million German users’ personal information.
With data breaches happening even to multinational institutions, it seems that there is no way we can protect our identity from being stolen. However, governments and policy-making bodies are implementing stricter rules for companies to follow, and punishment for those involved in identity theft.
What are governments doing to stop identity theft?
The European Parliament has just recently voted to strengthen EU-wide data protection laws encompassing digitised transactions and information-rich companies like Facebook and Google. In addition, the European Commission is pushing for a single law that would cover data protection for all EU citizens.
The latest proposal has also suggested that companies must adopt better security measures or else face bigger sanctions whenever they experience data breaches.
But because criminals are always using more sophisticated methods to steal personal information, governments must keep up with them. The implementation of these policies can happen too late because they still have to go through drafts, revisions and hearings. Often, the crime has already been done before the institutions upgrade their systems.
What you can do?
Fortunately, we can make sure that our identity isn’t being used for crime by adopting practices that keep our identity and accounts safe. Here are just some of the ways we can protect ourselves from identity theft:
- Don’t carry important documents around. Pickpockets and snatchers can easily get our identity if we carry our ID cards, checkbooks and other valuable documents around with us.
- Don’t repeat or recycle passwords. Try to create unique log in information for all accounts. In addition, use long passwords with numbers and stop from using obvious passwords like birthdays.
- Don’t write down PINS, passwords and log in information on paper. Memorise security details rather than write them down. If memorising them is difficult, then these should be written down in separate pieces of paper and hidden in different places.
- Keep personal documents and unpaid bills in a safe place. Documents like birth certificates, residency papers, social security numbers and IDs, bank statements, insurance policies and unpaid bills must be kept under lock and key.
- Shred financial details written on paper. When throwing out paper that carries personal information like old bills, tax documents and bank statements, shred them first to stop criminals from picking them up from bins.
- Secure online activity. Never share personal information like date and place of birth in public websites. Limit the number of people who can access personal details in profile pages or simply refrain from putting them online.
- Get a comprehensive antivirus system. Business owners who have a digital file of their cash flow, clients and staff should get a security system for their establishment and their computers. An antivirus system also protects computers from hacking programmes.
- Don’t trust email or phone calls asking for security details. Criminals may impersonate officials from banks and financial institutions and ask for our details via email or phone. Rather than answer these queries, ask for an appointment or offer to drop by the office to submit the information being asked.
- Stolen cards must be reported to banks immediately. Victims of theft must report the crime to the banks and authorities immediately. The bank can then freeze your accounts and prevent criminals from tapping into your credits. You will also be given new accounts and numbers that will keep you safe from future theft.
- Report suspicious bank and financial statements. Any unusual activities you notice in your financial statements should be forwarded to the institution as soon as possible. An enquiry can then reveal if your account has been compromised.
- Check for some information of possible breaches experienced by companies before availing of their service. Criminals are more likely to target vulnerable companies with reputation of weak security system.
- Notify banks when leaving the country. Travellers are often targets of pickpockets, leading to lost passports and credit and debit cards. Banks can cancel or disapprove suspicious purchases that aren’t consistent with the card owner’s buying history.
In recent news, a British businessman who lost his passport in 2003 is now facing a court order for £130,000 (€154,579) in unpaid tax bill. Apart from expenses for his solicitor, he also fears more charges may be put against him for crimes he did not commit. This can be avoided if we do what we can to protect our identity from exposure in the first place.
Before throwing our bills or editing our social network profiles, we should remember that every piece of information we release can be used against us. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure — in the case of identity theft, prevention can be worth our whole financial future!
Have you been a victim of identity theft or identity fraud? What did you do to secure your accounts from possible crime? What did you do to fight fraud and protect your finances? What other tips can you add that will prevent identity theft? Don’t hesitate to share any other information you know that will help others stay protected from identity theft. Leave a comment and share your thoughts below!