Being a victim of Identity Theft, I am quite familiar with the various ways criminals go after your identity. I have been called by my bank, credit cards, and companies that I have never heard of and they all told me that someone with my name and social security number had tried to get into my account or order goods in my name. The feeling of being violated is a complete understatement. For a while I felt unsafe and I was concerned for my family’s safety.

There are tell tale signs that your identity has been stolen but preventing ID theft is the key to ensuring that your financial future is secure.

Phishing

The Scam: This is when criminals send you an e-mail from a familiar account that you probably maintain. In this message, which happens to look very official, they ask you to complete a security update form (or similar type of upgrade). Once you click on submit, all of your personal info is gone.

Prevention: The easiest way to prevent Phishing is to avoid answering emails from any companies that request personal information. If you believe that the message is accurate, then go to the home page of the company and sign into your account and update your info there.

Passwords

The Scam: The more technical we become, the more passwords we are required to remember. Criminals feed on the fact that we don’t want to use difficult passwords for anything and they begin accessing our accounts with bits and pieces of info and they try plugging in generic passwords. Birthdates, anniversary, middle names, SS numbers, and family names are the most commonly used generic passwords. The criminals can crack that in a matter of minutes.

Prevention: There are two ways to protect your passwords. The first is making a password that is difficult to break. The trick is not using a different password for everything but using a password that no one can crack. A combination of numbers and letters should be within the password. Try using a password evaluator to see how good your passwords really are. The second way to protect your passwords is to change the password once every 30 – 60 days. I know this seems like a lot but it is important. The logic here is that even if your password gets out, it wont be valid for too long.

Computer Safety

The Scam: Walk into a Starbucks or an airport terminal and all you see are people with their lap tops and PDA’s connecting to the host wireless network. Typically, criminals go after major systems owned by large corporations with piles of data but there are times where a hacker will go directly for personal computers. That scenario has increased with the advent of wireless routers and networks. When a computer is open to a wireless network it becomes more vulnerable than those that are hard lined. It is at that point that the hacker will try to access a computer and try to download the contents of the hard drive or particular files. The hackers understand how much time they have and what they are looking for.

Prevention: The first line of defense you have is to install a basic firewall on your computer. Macafee and Norton are two of the more popular firewall providers but there are many good ones out there so ask around. The second preventative measure is to follow the password tips above. If your info is stolen, it will only be valid for a short while. Last, try not to keep too much personal info on your computer. I know that there has to be some but you don’t have to have a spread sheet with all your account numbers and passwords stored on your hard drive!!

Don’t be afraid to use on line resources. These companies spend a lot of time and money making sure that your information is protected. Just be careful and keep a clear record of all the sites that you have given personal information to. Don’t give up your personal info so easily and don’t let your children know your passwords. Children have curious minds and typically use secrets as a method of advancing themselves socially.

Be vigilant and be aware. Pay attention to your surroundings even on the internet. Know the people that you are giving your information to and if your not sure, don’t do it. These tips will help you maintain your financial status so you can live rich and don’t die poor.

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