How easy is it to get your identity stolen? Here are 13 easy ways
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Rob Goebel, Lana Kotioukova/CreditCards.com
You didn’t want that old identity of yours, did you? Good. We’ll help you get rid of it.
Simply by being oblivious, you can greatly increase your odds of being a victim of identity theft.
- Use a shared computer to make online purchases.
“Nothing’s impossible,” said Cameron Camp, security researcher with ESET North America, a San Diego, California, provider of anti-virus and security software, “if you have a determined adversary, or a teenager with lots of free time.” One great trick is to make it easy on yourself by saving all your credit card data on shopping sites, and telling your computer to remember all your shopping site passwords on your computer. That way, a savvy 15-year-old can buy all sorts of things at all sorts of dubious websites. “Lots of the time, people’s wounds are inflicted by others in their own house,” Camp said.
- Make online purchases at insecure websites.
When you go to your shopping cart, or even before that point, a secure website will change its HTTP address to HTTPS, and a lock sign should appear next to the address. Pay no attention. Lock signs, httpswhatever: Who wants that technobabble?
- Provide sensitive information over the phone or via email or fax.
Someone calls you and says they’re from the Internal Revenue Service. Of course you give up your Social Security number to them. It would be rude to say no. The same thing applies to someone who calls out of the blue and says they’re from your bank. Give up that SSN, and your mother’s maiden name while you’re at it. So what if the IRS says it never contacts you and asks for sensitive personal information. Or Visa. MasterCard. Or any real financial institution.
- Blithely take advantage of ATMs in foreign countries.
And if your card gets stuck in the machine, accept a stranger’s offer to help you get it out. Thieves often use this ruse to swipe financial information off the back of the cards of unsuspecting tourists, said Seth Ruden, senior fraud consultant for ACI Worldwide, a Naples, Florida-based payments systems company.
- Put every card you own in your wallet and bring it along on vacation.
There’s some sort of chippy card thing going on that makes American credit cards different. Something to do with EMV or QVC, who knows. Better to carry every credit card you own. That way, said Shirley Inscoe, senior analyst for the Aite Group, a market research company in Boston, if your wallet gets misplaced or stolen, you won’t know what was taken or have an emergency backup way to pay.
- Carry your ATM and credit card PINs at all times.
Keep them taped onto your card, or on a separate piece of paper in your wallet. “We see this with some frequency,” Ruden said. “It’s the single one thing that would cause an account to get emptied out.”
- Don’t bother to update your financial apps.
Sometimes updates just make your phone apps look prettier, or run more smoothly. Sometimes, Camp said, they are security patches.
- Pay no attention to your credit card and bank statements.
If something looks unusual, shrug. Better yet, toss them straight into the trash bin, unopened. A small item could be a thief’s test to see if the card works, Ruden said. To invite credit card fraud, simply ignore such charges, particularly if you don’t recognize them.
- Don’t put fraud alerts on your accounts.
With a fraud alert, you’ll hear from your bank and your credit card companies by text or email if they think they spot fraudulent activity, said Steve Petrevski, the general manager of the security and fraud solutions group for First Data, a merchant payment processing company headquartered in Atlanta. Really, who needs more communication these days?
- Don’t install anti-virus software.
That way, you invite viruses and other bugs in your system “that are stealing information directly from your keyboard,” Petrevski said.
- Latch onto one password, use it everywhere, keep it forever.
Your memory has finite capacity. Don’t tax it. Make it easy on yourself and use the same password, everywhere. Who came up with these new recommendations, anyway? Capital letters, Greek symbols, numbers … Wh0\xa2@nR3m3mB3r!? And besides, those “special characters” sounds so elitist.
- Punch in that ATM PIN for all the world to see.
Not all ATMs are secure, particularly not freestanding ones unconnected to a bank, Ruden said. Some will have fake card accepter slots that someone has slapped on top of the actual slot, to read information off the card’s magnetic strip. But that information only goes so far. To get at your bank account, the thieves also need your PIN. Sometimes, they’ve rigged up a pinhole camera to record you inputting it, Ruden said. If you don’t foil the camera by shielding your entry with a protective hand, you’ll give them an easy view.
- Pay for gas at the darkest, farthest-away pump.
Gas pumps are prime candidates for credit card skimmers — fake card accepter slots, Ruden said. But hey, it takes precious time to walk inside and pay at the register.