‘Identity theft’ is when someone obtains enough personal information about you to commit ‘identity fraud’ – such as unlawfully setting up loans or accounts in your name. Identity fraud is also sometimes used by the perpetrator to avoid an obligation or liability by claiming they themselves are the victim of such a scam.
Identity theft and fraud involves someone accessing your details, such as credit-card or personal information. Online, this can be done in a number of ways, such as with spyware or phishing. People can even commit identify fraud simply by using the information you’ve made publicly available online. For example, they may access clues you’ve given as to your address and date of birth details on an online forum or blog page. It’s always best not to give out this information online if you can avoid it.
Identity theft is devastating. Victims can spend years cleaning up the mess, all the while in danger of losing not just their money but also their name and reputation.
It’s estimated that a quarter of all cases of identity theft originate on the internet. More specifically, email and web pages dominate the fraud methodology, and the vast majority of victims actually have email contact with the perpetrator. The problem may actually be worse than imagined. Most governmental investigative agencies and private research organisations estimate that only one in 10 incidents of internet fraud ever reaches the attention of enforcement or regulatory bodies.
There are things you can do to avoid getting on the victims’ list. First, educate yourself about the more common scams making the rounds on the internet. Have a look at our Hoax Email section for more information.
Create a plan to protect against identity theft
So you have finally received your new desktop or laptop computer, equipped with top-notch tools and features. You can’t wait to connect to the internet and take full advantage of all the fantastic sites and offerings available – but hold on a second. An unprotected computer is an open door for hackers and phishers who want to steal your personal information or even your very identity.
Protecting your PC is crucial
Your plan should focus on online protection. Risky internet surfing, downloading, and transaction habits have helped identity theft to skyrocket. A fully protected computer is an absolute basic requirement. Using a piecemeal solution isn’t enough – there are too many malicious programmes created every day.
Fortify your computer with strong firewall, anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-spam, and privacy software. Then, sit down with your family and set rules for using the internet and instant messaging. It’s imperative that your identity protection plan addresses these basic requirements:
- Invest in multi-layered security software for your computer. Don’t settle for anything less than a comprehensive multi-layered solution that guards against viruses, spyware, adware, hackers, unwanted emails, phishing scams, and identity theft. Choose a major brand that you can trust to fit your specific needs.
- Watch out for phishing scams. Phishing scams use fraudulent emails and websites masquerading as legitimate businesses to lure unsuspecting users into revealing private account or login information. If you receive an email from a business that includes a link to its website, don’t click on the link. Just delete the email.
- Secure your wireless network. You’re at additional risk if you access the internet from a Wi-Fi network. Since your wireless network’s radio waves travel through walls, a hacker with a simple antenna can attack you from hundreds of feet away. You need to have a solution that protects your Wi-FI network.
- Beware of free downloads, surveys, and online club registration. Warn your children that many free downloads (such as games and wallpaper) include hidden spyware and adware programmes. They can monitor your keystrokes, track your internet logins, transmit confidential information, or redirect your browser to fraudulent sites.
- Security software stops these programmes from installing. Never install programmes unless you’re familiar with the website and programme, and have read the end user license agreement thoroughly. Tell your children to “just say no” to freebies! Also warn them that companies gather and sell their personal information when they take surveys and register for online clubs. Always read privacy policies to make smart download decisions.
- Be careful when opening attachments, downloading files from friends and family, or accepting unknown emails. Your computer can get a virus, worm, or Trojan horse simply by opening email and attachments, and by accepting files from anyone – even people you know and trust. If you choose to download files, make sure your security software is enabled and pay close attention to any warnings provided. A strong anti-virus programme is essential.
- Monitor your children’s activity online. Limit your children’s time online and ask them about their activities. Install software that allows you to monitor their usage, and filters or prevents them from accessing undesirable websites and sharing personal information. Set browsing guidelines for your children.
You and your family can enjoy a worry-free online experience with McAfee Internet Security Suite, which provides effective protection against identity thieves, spammers, and predators. It also protects your computer against viruses, worms, spyware and hackers, and includes features to back-up your treasured photos, music, and important files.
Don’t forget to browse through some of the other sections in the Broadband Security Security Centre. There are more detailed articles about scam emails, spyware and phishing as well as how to protect yourself from identity theft offline.
What to do if you’re a victim of identity fraud
- If you lose any cards or bank documents, or there are any transactions on your account you don’t recognise, contact the issuer or bank immediately. They’ll provide advice on what to do next. Follow up any phone calls you make with written notification.
- Report the fraud as a crime to your local police who’ll advise you on the way forward. For more info, visit the website www.met.police.uk/fraudalert
- Keep copies of all documents and letters you send or receive regarding the identity fraud and send letters by registered post.
- For further information on identity fraud, how to prevent it and advice on actions to take if you become a victim, follow the links below:CIFAS is the UK’s Fraud Prevention Service created by major consumer credit lenders. It has a wealth of information on financial fraud and identity theft, including internet fraud. It can be found at www.identityfraud.org.ukThe Home Office Identity Fraud Steering Committee has a website dedicated to helping protect and advise you. It’s at www.identitytheft.org.uk
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