Cybersecurity and personal security: Preventing identity theft

The supposedly ironclad IRS system was compromised, with the tax data of nearly one-million taxpayers apparently stolen, possibly by cybercriminals located in Russia.

Cybercrime prevention unit, USN.
Even the U.S. Armed Forces are getting serious about cybercrime. Identity theft, personal data theft--you should be worried, too. (Photo via Wikipedia)

VISTA, Calif.,  May 31, 2015 − Financial abuse impacts millions of people every year. Knowledge can help protect individuals from becoming the next victims of fiscal abuse.

Stories have steadily emerged where the victims of this seemingly faceless crime find that their personal information may have been breached. Large retail chains, including Target and Home Depot, have discovered that account information of their clients may have been jeopardized. This week, the IRS announced that even its supposedly ironclad system was compromised, with the tax data of nearly one million taxpayers apparently stolen, possibly by cybercriminals located in Russia.

The electronic cyberworld has various systems in place to ensure that financial information is protected. However, those systems are not always effective. There are actions individuals can take to protect themselves and make personal information harder for thieves to get hold of.

Sony and the problem of deterrence against cyber-attack

The easiest counteraction is also one of the earliest ones: changing and varying passwords between different accounts on a regular basis. With newer encryption technologies, a strong combination of upper and lower case letters and symbols in newly created passwords is a good step.

Better yet is creating new password strings consisting of up to 32 characters. This provides more even security, since longer passwords are more difficult to crack than short ones. Not all sites will presently allow passwords of this length, however.

Also, refrain from using passwords that contain personal information that hackers can easily guess. For example, avoid using your date of birth or the names of your children or pets.

Another way to protect yourself is to monitor your credit report information in all three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. These credit agencies offer credit monitoring services and each allows consumers one free annual credit report update.

You can obtain your credit report by visiting Credit Karma and Credit Sesame  offer free monitoring of your reports as well, although you may be urged to subscribe to associated credit protection and monitoring products at each site.

Checking your report regularly can keep you abreast with anything you may need to dispute that is inaccurate. In addition, should you discover that your identity has been compromised, you can request that the credit agencies place a “fraud alert” on your information within these agencies.

Another problem area is online banking. Given this country’s slow but steady move toward employing digital technologies for a variety of financial transactions, many of us have grown accustomed to paying monthly bills through online banking services. We can quickly set up automatic deductions to cover items ranging from monthly car payments to readily ordering products via televised infomercials.

Indeed, that ancient form of managing and balancing a checkbook may soon be a distant memory, so monitoring your electronic bank transactions daily can help prevent your hard-earned money from evaporating.

Cybersecurity threats include employees

If a transaction appears in your account that you did not authorize, your bank, once informed, can take strategic steps to reimburse you, suspend the account or card that was misused and deploy its fraud team in an effort to identify the perpetrator(s) for prosecution and prevent the victimization of countless others.

Even in today’s sophisticated world of cybertheft, identity thieves still may decide to use old-fashioned methods of obtaining your information. You can still lose your data, your identity or both to criminals who steal your mail or dig through your trash.

To protect yourself in these areas, retrieve your mail as soon as possible or even rent a post office box. Shredding documents containing personal or fiscal information with a crisscross shredder prior to disposal can also help. Shredding documents at home immediately saves you time, keeps your area free of clutter and can protect your identity in the long run.

If you don’t happen to have one of these relatively inexpensive shredders, there are reputable companies that offer shredding services.

As for your trash itself, putting your trash curbside the night before can give dumpster divers the nightlong advantage of not being seen. Therefore, when you place your trash can or receptacle out on the street for pickup, try to put it out just before the truck comes to haul it away. Should you choose to place it out the night before, try to put it in a well-lit area or place a motion light close by.

Old-school methods ranging from stealing your wallet or purse full of credit cards to surreptitiously skimming your credit card information at ATM machines are still perfectly good ways for less tech savvy thieves to make off with your identity or financial information. blackmail, cyber attack shines light on cybercrime

Keep your credit cards in a wallet that has RFID protection, keep your cards and picture identification on your person and don’t leave your purse or wallet in your car unattended or otherwise out of view. Use caution when using your personal identificaiton number at machines as well.

Creative identity thieves might even show up in person at your front door. These scam artists may pose as salespeople attempting to sell you a product or service. But they might give themselves away by asking questions like “Are you the owner of this home?” They may also ask for your name and phone number along with the times you are available at home to “schedule” an appointment. The more personal information they obtain, the easier it can be for them trespass into your private affairs.

When an unknown person arrives at your door, ask him or her to provide you with official photo identification. If they are legitimate, they should have no problem providing it. If pressed, a typical thief will quickly disappear rather than risk detection.

With regard to your personal information, just don’t give any of it out. To anyone. Should you suspect something is not right, contact your local police department and let them investigate further.

Protecting yourself and your identity is of crucial importance today Make it a regular habit to secure your valuables. Lock your car and your house, even when you are at home. When going to the gym, use a strong metal lock with a key when using their lockers. (Using a cheap one may save you a few bucks now. But in the long run, it can really cost you.)

Making an extra effort to protect yourself now can increase your security on many levels, especially when it comes to facing the potential of financial ruin. So do it now.

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  • Marcia Higgins

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