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How To Protect Yourself From Identity Theft

Hacker with a Laptop

Every year in August, hundreds of people gather at DefCon, a conference that is designed around the concept of extracting important data without anyone’s permission. DefCon is essentially a hacker convention, with all of the elements of any other conference including speakers, workshops and networking events. Keeping your identity safe from these people takes some vigilance and knowledge.

Know When You Are At Risk

Most technology savvy users know enough not to answer phishing spam but other theft methods are less common and harder to spot. Overlays are thin card readers that can be inserted into an ATM card slot. If you are not looking, most people will not see the overlay but once you put in your card, your account information is transmitted to a nearby computer and used in the future. The identity protection firm LifeLock has a list of 14 types of identity breaches. If you watch the LifeLock Twitter feed, it shows example after example of innovative ways that cyber hackers find to steal your money and identity. Recently they posted about a $100 million charity scam. Learn from other people’s experience to avoid falling into the same trap.

Know When To Be Friendly

The movies may give an image of hackers as antisocial computer geeks but many are simply old school grifters with a techno twist. It’s called social engineering and it’s the art of getting a person to volunteer important information without knowing that they are doing so. Author and creator of Social-Engineering.org Chris Hadnagy calls it the art of human hacking. One of his stories involves being hired by a company to test for security breaches. Within a day and entirely through telephone and email communication, Hadnagy found out that the CEO had a family member that beat cancer and used that information to send a computer virus laced email through the CEO’s server. Antivirus software does nothing if you volunteer the security codes.

Know that a social engineer’s job is to get you to invite them to steal your identity. Most people have a huge amount of information that is readily available to anyone with a computer. Routinely review your Facebook account to see what information you have given out but have probably forgotten. If a person is parroting back your Facebook thread, get offline and contact the police.

Know When To Be Proactive

There are about 16.6 million victims of identity fraud annually according to the U.S. Department of Justice. To educate the public the federal Office of the Inspector General has a simple pamphlet describing ways to protect your identity. It includes simple recommendations such as never keeping your social security card in your wallet. Also be careful with your trash because anyone willing to go through your garbage may be able to obtain sensitive identity information. Of course, sometimes it is too late. If you think you may be a victim of identity theft, call the fraud department of you financial institution as well as one of the three major credit bureaus. Once you place the call to credit agency, they will alert the other two. Also file a police report. Identity theft is a crime.

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