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When “You” Isn’t Really You: How to Prevent Identity Theft

"Identity Theft" typed on documents coming out of a shredder.

Be careful to guard your identity.

Today’s blog post isn’t about the threat of a natural disaster. We will be discussing a manmade crisis that can potentially affect anyone and can take months or even years to repair. Today’s topic is Identity Theft. Claiming nearly 10 million victims a year, Identity Theft is the number one complaint lodged with the FTC.

According to research from Nationwide Insurance, four out of five victims of Identity Theft encountered serious issues as a result of the crime, such as lowered credit scores, bankruptcy, foreclosure, or even prison time.

A significant threat now that so many of us handle financial matters online, Identity Theft is a crime that is cloaked in mystery, with most of us imagining identity thieves working in dark, secret computer-filled lairs. The truth is that the crime is far less glamorous than they make it out to be in the movies, with far more serious implications for its victims. The good news is that while Internet anonymity is practically impossible these days, you can take steps to make yourself a less inviting target.

  • When it comes to selecting a password for your online bank account or email accounts, don’t choose “password” or “1234.” Also avoid easily detectable data such as your child’s first name, your birthday, your anniversary, your dog’s name or your street address. This type of data is easily accessible for even casual hackers.
  • No matter how much you hate the hassle of changing and forgetting your passwords, you need to change them periodically. Experts recommend changing passwords on every online account at least every three to six months. People who work with extremely sensitive data change passwords hourly.
  • Check “privacy settings” on social media websites. Recent problems regarding privacy settings on Facebook highlighted the need to carefully consider how public you should be with details about your life. Review your settings and carefully read the “terms of service” on every site you use. Also, look at the amount of data on your social network profiles and determine if certain identifying information should be deleted or altered.
  • Do you like to use WiFi and other public area internet access networks? Take steps to ensure security of your laptop or mobile device when sending information over shared networks. Don’t let the leather chair and tasty beverage lull you into thinking you are at home when you are using your computer at Starbucks.
  • Create truly random passwords. Some popular “systems” for randomizing passwords involve thinking of a phrase such as: “My favorite movie is Gone with the Wind” and using the first letter from each word: MFMIGWTW. Better yet, change the case in some of the letters and swap out the second and fourth letters with characters, so the password would be m@M*GWtw. Randomization and picking phrases only you would know are the keys to real password security.
  • Even if your passwords are difficult to decipher, you might be surprised by how easily experienced hackers can access even complicated encryptions. Fortunately, several applications and software offer secure password management tools. If you do not have access to these tools, consider using a completely random number. And don’t store it near your computer or in your purse.

Also, don’t forget about offline methods that thieves can use to steal your identity. Not every identity thief is a hacker holed up in a basement with five computers and three monitors. Some still take a more old-fashioned but no less harmful approach to assuming someone else’s identity.

  • Don’t leave mail hanging out of your mailbox or dispose of it in the trash can at the post office! The amount of information contained on some of your bills is staggering. Thieves who commit the felony of stealing your mail would have access to your full name, address, phone number, account numbers, bank routing numbers and more. For security, deposit important mail into a USPS drop box.
  • Don’t forget about the trash. Shred any and all documents that contain personal information before you toss away any paperwork…including junk mail.
  • Take a good look at your wallet or purse. Is it a good idea to carry your social security card, checks, paystubs, insurance information and a letter with your mother’s maiden name on it, conveniently located all in one place for the taking?
A lock on top of a credit card

Do what it takes to protect your identity.

What steps should business owners and manager take to guard customer and/or employee personal information?

  • Computer data is hard to erase! If your sell or donate old computer equipment, clicking “delete” on files and folders won’t be sufficient. Purchase an application that can completely wipe the hard drive. Or, better yet, take computers to a trusted source so the hard drive can be erased. All data on CD, DVD or backup tapes should be removed and then destroyed so files are completely unreadable.
  • Mind your laptop. Guard it at all times, as if you are protecting private information. You are! Store sensitive data on secure servers or in the computing “cloud,” behind firewalls, instead of stored on a portable machine.
  • Have old-fashioned paper files? Outsource your document retention services to an established company that will shred or store, as needed. Also, don’t throw boxes of data with sensitive client information into your building’s unsecure storage basement! Invest in a heavy-duty shredder and use it often.
  • Don’t adopt “It Won’t Happen to Me Syndrome.” According to the FTC, in the past five years alone, 27.3 million people were victims of identity theft.

We often discuss the benefits of proactive prevention. And dealing with Identity Theft is no exception. When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives.  For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact RJWestmore, Inc. Our new Version 2.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit RJWestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.

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