Whether you're savvy about online security and how to look after your finances online and offline, everyone is a target for cyber criminals. Identity theft isn't just about stealing your name, it's the process of using details normally associated with you to spend money - often money you don't already have.
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Identity fraud has a sudden impact
In almost every case, identity theft happens without the victim knowing. It isn't until occurrences of identity fraud become known that it becomes apparent that something is amiss.
This is a moment you will never forget. The realisation that someone is posing as you, taking out credit cards, applying for loans, and more, leaving you liable for the debt, is sickening.
5 Tricks to Avoid Identity Theft
While anyone can have their identity stolen, there are some things you can do to mitigate the risk. You can protect yourself from identity fraud by reducing your risk of exposure. To do this, use these five tricks to avoid identity theft.
1. Maximise your digital security
If you're not managing your digital life correctly, the internet is like a sink hole for security.
To start with, you should be using a strong password, generated using a password manager with lower- and upper-case characters, numbers, and punctuation (where allowed). Don't use the same password for multiple accounts and keep your passcodes and PINs safe. If you must write them down, lock the cheat sheet away. A password manager like LastPass is the smart option, as only one password needs to be remembered. Two-factor authentication should also be enabled where available.
Meanwhile, ensure all your devices have a password, PIN, or thumbprint access set up. Also, ensure devices have working antivirus software and stay aware of current threats, such as ransomware and phishing.
- Also check out the best password generators
2. Strengthen home security
Losing a credit card or a driving license would be bad enough - losing both would put you in the fast lane to identity fraud.
You can mitigate the risk of important details being stolen by ensuring all old credit cards, letters, bank statements, and other identifiable information is shredded once it is ready to be discarded. Meanwhile, keep things like birth certificates under lock and key.
For shared accommodation, be sure your mail is not intercepted. Check it regularly and go paperless where possible. It's also worth purchasing a decent shredder for sensitive paper documents.
Keep your wireless network secured from intruders too. Set a new password and change the network name.
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3. Be aware of your finances
Knowing how much money you have to your name is useful for working out if ID fraud has hit you.
So, use online banking, but ensure that your bank has taken steps to keep accounts secure. Monitor your bank statements every month. Take the same steps for credit cards, online payment systems like PayPal, too.
Almost all major financial institutions offer account monitoring services and text message (SMS) alerts. Simply logon to the website or call the customer service department to set this up.
If anything is amiss in your account - such as a particularly large purchase, or something bought overseas - an automated SMS will be sent to your phone.
Also, use a credit reference agency to keep an eye on your financial status. This will help you detect any credit applications made without your knowledge.
4. Pay by cash whenever possible
While cash isn't completely untraceable, using it does however reduce your exposure to identity theft.
Many cases can be traced to the use of credit or debit cards. When the card leaves your possession to be swiped, it is at risk of being cloned. Although small amounts can be transacted with contactless payments, the full card-and-PIN are required for larger sums. This is where the risk comes.
Credit card fraud is a type of identity theft where your card is copied and used. Often, the details are copied direct to a new card, but increasingly they're added to a database to be sold on the Dark Web for criminals to buy.
Using cash to pay for food and drinks in restaurants or street markets, is a smart way to avoid exposure to identity theft.
5. Be alert in public places
Public places, especially busy city centres and shopping malls, are common hunting grounds for identity thieves.
First up, you've got the obvious pick pockets, helping themselves to the contents of your purse or wallet. The usual items - credit cards, driving license, membership card, passport, work ID - are at risk.
Then there is the risk of shoulder surfing. When an identity thief stands close enough to see you enter your PIN at an ATM or in-store, they can use this information. Perhaps they already know where you live and can order a new card and intercept it. Alternatively, they've used social networking to learn everything about you, and will use the observed PIN to access a new card they've had sent to a new address, requested in a call with all security questions passed.
Don't let people get too close when you're at an ATM or paying for goods. Keep your PIN covered. And keep that portable archive of your entire life, your smartphone, always locked and out of sight.
Don't take anything for granted: keep checking for signs of ID fraud
Now you know how to avoid identity theft, you should be safe.
However, knowing how to avoid identity theft is only a part of the challenge. In a time when information can be transported around the globe in seconds, it is vital to know what to do in the event of ID fraud.
So, remain alert in pubic; always practice improved data security; shred all old bank statements; use cash whenever possible. In short: minimise your exposure to identity theft and prevent ID fraud.
- We've also highlighted the best identity theft protection
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Christian Cawley is the editor responsible for Linux, Security, Programming, and DIY content at MakeUseOf.com, where he also regularly contribute articles and video reviews. With over 10 years' experience writing in the consumer electronics, IT and entertainment media, Christian has been fortunate to work with some of the best websites and print publications in these fields.