Aug 17, 2013

Are You Who They Say You Are?

It is no secret that identify theft is a huge problem.  With information flowing freely from device to device through free Wi-Fi, and individuals, myself included, relying on cloud-based services to store documents, photos and personal data, it's no wonder it isn't more prevalent.  Of course, most of these things are save and secure, but it doesn't take much for a hack to get into your business if he or she really wants.  With that said, below are a couple of articles I found that help make you aware of the dangers and provide a few tips to protect yourself.  Enjoy!

First, watch this video by Becky Worley of Yahoo's Upgrade Your Life to see just how easy a talented hack can ascertain your information ... then beware of ever joining a "public free Wi-Fi" spot!


Her write up can be found here.

More recently, my former marketing professor, Ken Homa, from Georgetown University wrote a couple of interesting posts about his experience and close calls with identity thefts.

His personal account is enough to make anyone nervous, and he then provided some great tips, which I have included below.
  1. Take this privacy stuff and ID theft seriously.  If it happened to me, it can happen to you.  My view: not a matter of “if”,  it’s a matter of when. This is an instance when an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.
  2. Tighten-up user IDs and passwords. If you use common User IDs (e.g. your name), it’s like shooting fish in a barrel for hackers. Similarly, simple passwords are easy to crack. Use letters & numbers, caps & lower case, special characters. Be as random as possible – e.g. don’t just cap the first letter.  Strong passwords aren’t unbreakable to pros, but can hinder the amateurs.  If you’re not yet a believer, see Gotcha: How long does it take to hack a 16-character password?
  3. Hold the phone.  Mobile is the weakest link in the security system … by its general nature … and because people are lax re: cell security.  My take: Any and all mobile transactions open you up to trouble. Do your banking via your smart phone and you’re asking for trouble.
  4. Subscribe to an ID theft tracking service.  They’re a relatively cheap insurance policy.  They don’t catch everything, but I’ve been impressed with what they detect and how quickly they report what they find – essentially real-time.  And, while they don’t fix the problem, they can usually point you in the right direction.
  5. If hacked, immediately place a fraud alert with the credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion, Experian). Easy to do online – just go to any of their sites – if you notify one, they notify the others.  Fraud alert lasts for 90 days.  During that time, there are extra levels of scrutiny – including a phone call to you – if somebody tries to dink with your accounts or apply for credit in your name.  Extra bonus: when you place a fraud alert, you get a free copy of your credit report. Note: you can place a 90-day fraud alert proactively … even if you haven’t been subject to suspicious activity.
  6. File a police report.  Just call a local station and ask how to do it. In my case, an officer was promptly dispatched to my house.  He was courteous, and efficient.  The entire process took only a few minutes.  Armed with a police report number, you have the option to extend the fraud alert for years, not just months.
  7. Read your account statements.  Don’t just glance at them and throw them on a stack.  Scan for unusual transactions, and check your credit max and current balance – if either move unexpectedly, figure out why. Note: Sometimes crooks will hack in and simply shift your credit line to a different (new) card within the account.
  8. Heads-up when you complete a big, extraordinary transaction.  I don’t know how or when the bad guys got my info, but I have some suspicions.