No one wants their identity stolen. For our discussion, let’s define identity theft as the illicit creation of fraudulent accounts (be they with a web host, a bank or any other financial institution) using unlawfully acquired credentials. In 2011, more than 11.6 million adults in the United States fell victim to identity theft. The average amount of time each of these individuals spent repairing damage due to the creation of fraudulent accounts was 165 hours. An additional 58 hours was spent to repair and resolve the subsequent issues with their previously existing accounts. The best estimates indicate that an identity is stolen every three seconds; frequent enough for the FBI to consider identity theft “America’s fastest growing crime problem.”
At HostGator, we deal with fraudulent account sign-ups every single day, without exception. Some try to use comically fake identification, others use legitimately stolen documents. As a result of our continuing efforts in preventing these sign-ups, we slowly but surely became experts in the many ways that criminals will attempt to perpetrate fraud. There is no absolute way to guarantee immunity from identity theft, but you can certainly hedge the odds in your favor by exercising a slight degree of caution.
Exercise caution when browsing the internet:
Phishing is essentially the creation of a very legitimate-looking website that exists solely to trick people into providing their personal information. Imagine a website that looked exactly like FaceBook, but perhaps had one letter different in the domain, like “faecbook,” which was specifically chosen in hopes that you would perhaps accidentally misspell the name yourself when attempting to browse to FaceBook. Now, if you don’t notice the mis-spelled domain and you enter your legitimate FaceBook login, you have now provided your login credentials to phishers. Now, imagine if the same thing happened with your bank account login.
Exercise caution when making online purchases:
Not everyone knows what an SSL Certificate is, but it is a key piece in the prevention of online identity theft. An SSL Certificate facilitates an encrypted connection between two machines; your computer and the server on which you are making an online purchase. Any time you ever enter any credit card information on any website, for any reason, be certain that the address bar of your browser shows “https” and not just “http.” That “s” stands for “secure” and without it, your information is unencrypted and ripe for the taking by any number of dastardly folks on the prowl to steal identities.
Exercise caution even when making physical purchases:
Skimming is the act of running a credit card through a small, easily-concealed device that simply stores the information held on the card’s magnetic strip. Perhaps a skimmer takes a job as a waiter at a restaurant for the sole purpose of being able to handle your credit card for a few moments, unobserved when ostensibly taking the card to facilitate the payment of your bill.
The goal here is not to increase paranoia, but to raise awareness of the potentialities that exist and the means by which these methods are executed.
Your Social Security Number should be memorized and the original card kept in a safe place, not your pocket. Don’t print it out or write it down unnecessarily. Only provide it in an official capacity to legitimate recipients, such as a credit card or loan application or your employer. Always provide your SSN with caution.
You likely receive mail that contains information that could be useful to malicious people; bank statements, credit card offers and bills all contain personal information. Perhaps use a paper shredder for both sensitive documents and junk mail, rather than just tossing them in the trash. If your purse or wallet is stolen, notify your bank or financial institution immediately and report any credit or debit cards as stolen. These are just some basic pro-tips, though a quick Google search will turn up countless websites that cover this topic in greater detail.
Please educate yourself further; do not be a victim of identity theft.