Internet Frauds and Scams - Part VIII Safeguards Against Identity Theft

Last week we discussed how Internet in the 90's has spawned a new variety of crooks called identity thieves whose stock in trade is your everyday transaction. This week we examine safeguards and list Internet resources on identity theft.

How to Minimize the Risk

While you probably can't prevent identity theft entirely, you can minimize your risk. By managing your personal information wisely, cautiously and with an awareness of the issue, you can help guard against identity theft. Here are some suggestions:

  • Place judicious passwords on your bank account, credit and debit cards, mailbox, domain name, web-site and various other objects of daily use. Please exercise caution on selection of password - birthday, name of spouse or children, place of birth etc. are very common passwords and easy to crack. Avoid using words from dictionary - use a combination of letters (upper and lowers case), numbers and symbols.

  • Secure personal information in your home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help or are having service work done in your home.

  • Ask about information security procedures in your workplace. Find out who has access to your personal information and verify that records are kept in a secure location. Ask about the disposal procedures for those records as well.

  • Don't give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you've initiated the contact or are sure you know who you're dealing with. Identity thieves may pose as representatives of banks, Internet service providers (ISPs) and even government agencies to get you to reveal your personal information like PAN number, mother's maiden name, account numbers and other identifying information. Before you share any personal information, confirm that you are dealing with a legitimate organization. You can check the organization's website as many companies post scam alerts when their name is used improperly, or you can cross-check the credentials of the person by calling Customer service of the organization.

  • Shred or carefully tear your mails, letters from bank, insurance papers, credit card slips etc. Guard your trash from theft.

  • Promptly remove postal mails from your mailbox. If you're planning to be away from home and can't pick up your mail, request a friend or neighbor to collect it.

  • Before revealing any personally identifying information (for example, on an application), find out how it will be used and secured, and whether it will be shared with others. Ask if you have a choice about the use of your information. Can you choose to have it kept confidential?

  • Don't carry your PAN card, credit card, passport or ration card unless required - leave these in a secure place.

  • Carry only the identification information and the number of credit and debit cards that you'll actually need.

  • Pay attention to your billing cycles. Follow up with creditors if your bills don't arrive on time. A missing credit card bill could mean an identity thief has taken over your account and changed your billing address to cover his tracks.

  • Be wary of promotional scams. Identity thieves may use phony offers to get you to give them your personal information.

  • Keep your purse or wallet in a safe place at work.

Precautions for Web-Site

  • While surfing secure sites like your bank computer - don't use an automatic log-in feature which saves your user name and password so you don't have to enter them each time you log-in. Always log off when you're finished - do not be in a hurry to move to another site or close your browser without log-off. Without proper log-off - your secure data remains vulnerable for hacking.

  • Look for website privacy policy - it will tell you about security, and control of personal information collected by the site. It should also explain how information will be used, and whether it will be provided to third parties. If you don't see a proper privacy policy, consider surfing elsewhere or do not volunteer any information.

Next Week - How to Protect Your PC and Where to look for more information on Identity theft

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Source: FAIDA - Newsletter on Business Opportunties from India and Abroad Vol: 3, Issue 45 March 6' 2003

Author : Dr. Amit K. Chatterjee
(Amit worked in blue-chip Indian and MNCs for 15 years in various capacities like Research and Information Analysis, Market Development, MIS, R&D Information Systems etc. before starting his e-commerce venture in 1997. The views expressed in this columns are of his own. He may be reached at )

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