How to protect your identity online

Although the most common causes of identity theft are still a lost wallet or a stolen credit card, online abuses are playing an increasingly significant role. Every time we sign up for a web-based service – whether it’s online banking or Facebook – we lose a little more control over our identity. And it’s not just adults that are at risk. Thieves are increasingly targeting minors because of their clean credit history and the length of time it can take to uncover misuse.

While there is no software or other device that can completely eliminate the possibility of identity theft, there are a number of small actions we can take that will greatly reduce our vulnerability. Here are some suggestions on how to minimize the risk:

  • Safeguard all your personal information, not just your social security number. Your name, address, bank account details, date of birth – all this information can help thieves build a profile and take over your identity.
  • Make sure you use strong, unique passwords for all online services and transactions. Consider using an independent password manager.
  • Use a credit monitoring service, so you are warned about strange purchases or attempts to open new accounts in your name.
  • Keep a record of your credit card and bank account information, so you can take quick action to close or freeze accounts if they are compromised.
  • If you do have to submit your personal information online, look for evidence that the information is being encrypted, so it can only be read by the intended recipient. Secure sites usually have web addresses that begin with “https” rather than the usual “http” and display a lock icon on the right-hand site of the address bar.
  • And before submitting your name, e-mail or other personal information, look for the web site’s privacy policy. How will the site use your information and will they share it with other organizations? If you do decide to submit personal data, make sure you uncheck the options to receive offers from partners or other third parties.
  • Monitor your kids’ online behavior and make sure they do not post any personal information on their own behalf or on behalf of other members of the family.
  • Use anti-virus and Internet security software to reduce your exposure to malware and other online risks.

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