October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month, and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) is reminding you that cyber-thieves are constantly combing the Internet in search of unprotected data that they use to steal others’ identities. The practice of identity theft continues to grow, leaving behind millions of victims who are then saddled with the lengthy and financially burdensome chore of repairing the financial damage. Your BBB urges consumers to take a moment to remind themselves of ways they can secure their identity and avoid ID theft’s repercussions.
Types of identity theft
The term itself is broad and covers a number of variations. Here are the major ones:
• Financial identity theft – This type of fraud can affect your credit card or bank accounts. False loan applications taken out in someone else’s name are a common form of financial ID theft.
• Government identity theft – This is a defrauding of federal, state or local government agencies to falsely claim benefits.
• Child identity theft – This is the acquisition of personal information from children for fraudulent use, often involving information acquired from children’s Internet usage.
• Elderly identity theft – Older adults are targeted for financial exploitation, frequently from a relative, friend or caretaker.
Identity theft is commonly associated with Internet activity, but it is important to remember that paper records are also extremely vulnerable to exploitation by thieves. This is why BBB frequently urges consumers to shred any paper documents (even junk mail) that could be used to acquire information about your identity.
These practices can greatly reduce the chances that you will be victimized by a cyber-identity thief:
• Share with care. Online posts can last forever. Carefully consider what you are putting online for everyone to see.
• Own your online presence. Set privacy and security settings on your digital devices for minimal information sharing. Everyone doesn’t need to see everything.
• Value your personal information. Think of it as money with value and deserving of protection. Be sure any site you visit is legitimate before entering personal information. Ignore calls for you to act immediately.
• Make passwords long and strong. Long passwords with upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols are vital. Don’t repeat passwords across accounts. Keep a paper list in a safe place away from your computer. Consider using password vault application.
• Lock down your login. Use the strongest authentication available. 2-factor identification should be used when possible.
• Don’t click unfamiliar links. One click can infect your device.
• Pay attention to your Internet of Things devices (Appliances, thermostats, cars, voice control systems, etc.) Read their privacy policies and understand what data is collected and how it is used.
If you have fallen victim to a cyber-identity thief, an excellent source for more discussion and tips regarding your cybersecurity can be found on the website of the Identity Theft Resource Center at idtheftcenter.org. This non-profit organization supports ID theft victims as they resolve their cases.
The growing cybersecurity problem can seem daunting. With good safeguards in place and by following the above practices, however, your online security can be greatly enhanced. Your questions and concerns regarding cybersecurity and ID theft can be addressed by contacting your BBB at (800) 856-2417 or visit our website at bbb.org.