Type “identity theft” into a search engine and it will bring up a ton of results, including news stories of identity theft rings popping up in the most unlikely of places. It seems that identity theft is becoming ever easier (this time last year, a study announced there were approximately 10,000 identity theft rings in the U.S.), and so there are a lot of people who find the idea of making illicit easy money a pretty good one—whether they’re technologically gifted or not.
In late September, police in Georgia arrested two former bus drivers for alleged credit card fraud involving the theft of the cardholders’ identities. Allegedly, the couple had been using a scanner to read the names off the cards’ magnetic strips, and then embossing the names and relevant numbers onto fake credit cards.
Meanwhile, an independent security researcher has exposed a major identity theft ring that offers an online service that, for a price, provides the Social Security numbers, business and credit details, or health histories and drug test results from several public records databases. The service uses malware to obtain secret access to the data—malware so good that antivirus protection measures were only able to detect it just a couple of weeks ago.
So how do you protect your identity in the digital world? While being technically savvy may keep you from falling prey to identity predators, there are some simple ways you can protect yourself when using your credit card in cyberspace:
Use multiple passwords
You should always use different passwords for different accounts. Use the same one for every account, and you could have your identity ripped out from right under you. Also, make the passwords as hard as possible for people to crack; you can do this by mixing numbers and letters and, if possible, symbols.
Use two-step verification
Another way to make life difficult for potential ID thieves to snatch your identity online is to set up the two-step verification process. These are available on such services as Gmail and Twitter. Once you log in, they can send a verification code to your cell phone, which you then must enter in order to access your account.
Don’t be too permissive
In the world of iPhones, smartphones and Androids, there are all kinds of apps out there. Some of them go too far, however, requesting access to info or data that they don’t need in order to operate. Think about the type of apps you’re using. If the information any of them is asking for seems unnecessary, scrap the app.
Deploy software patches
Hackers explore vulnerabilities in systems to acquire your data, take control of your computer or achieve whatever other illegal end they set out to accomplish. You can preempt this by deploying software patches (especially for browsers and browser plug-ins) to protect your computer. While you’re at it, see if your browser is up to date, too. If it’s not, download the latest version.
Identity theft does seem to be getting easier. The ubiquitous nature of the internet has created endless opportunities for wrongdoers to steal data at home or abroad, commit identity theft and hide their tracks. By the same token, however (and thankfully), the internet also provides resources for you to protect yourself from becoming an identity thief’s next unwilling victim. So use the power of the internet for good. Outwit the bad guys.