Identity thieves are nothing if not creative; they can take the most seemingly innocent item and turn it into the keys to unlocking your financial fortress. The more technology encroaches into our daily lives, the more access we give them to our personal information. (There are many different ways to be victimized through home ownership - learn how to identify and avoid these crimes. Check out Mortgage Fraud: Understanding And Avoiding It.)
TUTORIAL: Retirement Planning
Exactly how much information do you share on social networks? When you complete your profile or account information for a social networking site, they ask for personal information such as your date of birth, address, phone number and even your hometown or place of birth. While giving all of this information to a social networking site might enhance your ability to connect with other users, it also puts very important information out for potential thieves to use. Make their job harder by leaving these sections blank.
And it's not just about the information you give in your profile - you also need to consider what you say within your profile. For example, many financial websites like to use your mother's maiden name as a failsafe for identifying you when you log on or forget your password. But what happens if you happen to mention your mother's maiden name in a social network status update? Don't just watch what you put in your profile, watch what you mention in passing too - potential identity thieves certainly will.
When you input information onto a website and submit it - let's say to the seller of an item in an online store - the data that you enter into the required fields must be transmitted to the receiving company. In between your computer (the data entry point) and the final recipient's, the data can be redirected to an identity thief unless the website is secured against such an action.
It's easy to tell the difference between a secured and unsecured website when you are entering personal information or credit card numbers into a site. The first is to look at the websites address in your address bar. A site that begins with, "HTTP://WWW" is not secure. When you see an "S" after HTTP (as in, HTTPS://WWW) then you know the site is secure.
Another way to find out if you are entering data into a secured site is to look at the bottom right or left side of your browser for a little padlock icon. This icon also indicates that the website transmission is secure. (Follow this sound advice and plan for a comfortable future. See 10 Tips For Achieving Financial Security.)
As phones get "smarter", we leave more and more important information on them that enables thieves to easily steal our private financial data when we sell or donate old phones after an upgrade. If you use your phone to log in to your bank, billing or social networking accounts, then you need to erase any stored data before you let your cell phone leave your possession.
We've all heard the horror story of identity theft and how thieves have hacked into bank accounts and credit cards - or opened new bank accounts and credit cards in the names of those they've stolen from. But there are other ways in which thieves can apply your identity and steal from your good name, and that includes utilities fraud.
Utilities fraud involves the creation of utility company accounts in the name of the victim. This could include power, cable and other accounts. This type of fraud may not show up when you monitor your credit report, and you may not get bills for the service alerting you of the problem, so it is important to guard your information carefully in order to avoid becoming a victim.
The Bottom Line
One of the most important (and most basic) things you can protect is your identity. Because not only does this bleed into your financial life and situation, it also affects your reputation, credit report and ability to get certain employment positions. Take the necessary steps to fend off identity thieves before they get your information in their sites. (Make sure there are no errors holding you back from obtaining a loan. Check out Check Your Credit Report.)