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Protecting against identity theft

06 February 2015

internet fraud protection

There are international awareness weeks for just about everything - even fraud doesn’t miss out. Fraud week is in November, but as Sony executives would probably tell you, that’s no excuse to put off protecting your identity. Whether you are an individual or a business, your identity remaining intact is vitally important, especially in the online space and especially when it comes to your finances.

Discussing the topic, we found many people didn’t think they had enough protection and were worried generally about doing ‘stuff’ online. We also came across a fascinating report from Microsoft done in September 2014, and which followed up on an earlier report done in 2012, called the “Microsoft Online Scams & Fraud Survey”.

While the data might be American we’re betting we’d uncover similar results if it was done in Australia. The survey found, for example, that “concern is up across all scam categories” and that “84 percent experienced scams and frauds from multiple sources”. The report also explained the sorts of scams and fraud individuals may experience – phishing, spear phishing, shopping, ‘African Princes’ seeking personal details - and found the most common method for being targeted was through PCs.

Microsoft’s tips to protect you from identity theft are quoted here:

“Be selfish and defensive with personal information by not sharing sensitive details in emails, and instant and text messages.

“Create, use and keep secret so-called “strong” passwords, which are comprised of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols.

“Protect accounts and credit by staying on top of monthly balances and managing lines of credit, and

“Bolster device security by applying regular updates and using legitimate anti-malware programs.”

Lifehacker has some clear, calm advice on protection.

We’re highlighting this piece of advice from the site because, although it may seem obvious, the twist in the tale - and fix - we love: “never open attachments from untrusted sources, and even if you get one from a trusted source, you should pay attention to the file extension of the attachment before downloading and opening it,” warns Lifehacker.

Why, because, “even if it's legit, it's always safer to visit the business' web site by typing in the URL instead of clicking the link in the email. Remember, email addresses can be very easily spoofed, so even if you get a note from a name or business you trust, it could be spoofed and the URL could lead you to an unexpected location.”

The fix: “While it's not foolproof,” says Lifehacker, and by the way, what is online, “making sure you're connected to as many of your favorite sites over SSL is the best way to make sure you're actually talking to the site you think you're talking to, and to make sure your communications with that site are encrypted. You can use the HTTPS Everywhere extension to force hundreds of sites to HTTPS, enable HTTPS on Facebook, do the same at Twitter, and check to make sure to look for the lock or the green box next to the URL in your browser's address bar to make sure the version of the site you're on is secure. If it's not, try the site address with https:// in front of it to see if it works.”

Identity theft can take many forms, from fraudulent credit card use, to your entire identity being used to open accounts, obtain loans, and conduct other illegal activities.

Here are seven simple strategies to help protect your financial identity:

Ensure your mailbox (that’s the real one) is locked and check it for tampering. If you’re away from home for an extended period, arrange for mail to be held at your local post office or have a friend collect it.

Safely dispose of personal and financial information such as account statements, bills and receipts, by tearing or shredding them before throwing them away

Most financial institutions allow you to sign-up for statements online and you can also elect to get many of your bills the same way. These can be viewed and downloaded when banking online. (eStatements are also good for the environment.)

Check you've received all expected bills and statements as a missing statement could mean a thief has removed it from your mailbox.

Register for SMS protection with your bank and receive SMS alerts to your mobile to authorise certain Online Banking transactions.

If you are moving house update your details with your bank, etc. straight away: do they have your mobile or telephone number? Knowing your current contact details enables them to contact you quickly if suspicious activity is detected

Set up a special keyword - it’s like an extra layer of security used during Telephone Banking that makes it harder for a fraudster to assume your identity.

Passwords – a note

The bane of our lives, passwords need to be many and varied and remembered. No good attempting to open your online banking, a shopping site or in fact anything else and not knowing your password.

Again from Lifehacker, is this piece on password choice.

“You don't need to remember 100 passwords if you have 1 rule set for generating them. One way to generate unique passwords is to choose a base password and then apply a rule that mashes in some form of the service name with it. For example, you may use your base password with the first two consonants and the first two vowels of the service name. Say your base password is "asdf." (See how easy those keys are to type?). Then your password for Yahoo would be ASDFYHAO, and your password for eBay would be ASDFBYEA.”

There are lots of ways to solve your password memory problem. The important thing is to come up with a rule that you then follow each time and add an abbreviation of the service, site, etc. to it.