Identity theft is becoming a bigger problem as more and more people are making the internet a bigger part of their lives. You may not think that an accounting or tax firm should worry about identity theft, but it is a major problem for us these days. We will be doing a whole series on identity theft, so check back often in the next couple weeks for more information.
People who are new to the online medium often fall prey to ‘phishing’ or other internet identity theft schemes. In many cases the ‘phishing party’ uses your credit card to order goods for them selves, in other cases they will apply for credit cards, set up bank accounts, and take advantage of your good credit rating. Correcting these issues involves a lot of time energy and stress, so here are ten tips to help you from becoming a victim of identity theft.
- Use a disposable email account. Keep your business or personal email account just for business or personal communication. If you are going to be making purchases online, joining newsgroups, or subscribing to mailing lists and ezines use a disposable email account. There are many online free accounts such as yahoo, hotmail or grail, and most of them can interface with popular email clients like outlook or outlook express. Use one of them for all of your shopping transactions.
- Disguise your online identity. If your real name in Joe Bloggs try to avoid using email accounts with name like email@example.com when dealing with people you don’t know and trust. If you were born in 1970 don’t chose firstname.lastname@example.org as your email account.
- Use different level passwords. Use one password for your personal information, use another for your business accounts and a third for your disposable email accounts or mailing lists you sign up for. Don’t use sequential passwords like password1 for personal use password2 for business, and password 3 for disposable accounts.
- Use strong passwords. Don’t use your birthdates, year you were married, or your children’s birthdates. Avoid choosing passwords that consist entirely of letters or numbers. Also try to avoid using passwords that are actual words. The best passwords are mnemonic phrases like “my father ate three apples for breakfast”. Take the first letter of each word and convert the number into numbers and you end up with “mfa3a4b”.
- Rotate your passwords. You should change your passwords every 6 to 12 months. If you suspect your passwords have been compromised change them as a safety precaution.
- Use only one credit card for all of your online purchases. If any of your other credit cards have online transactions you know they are fraudulent. If you see offline purchases for your online credit card you also know they are fraudulent.
- Use credit cards instead of debit cards. While many debit cards now offer online purchase protection it’s easier to dispute fraudulent charges than to recover debit card funds that have already been spent.
- When you make purchases online make sure your transactions are secure. In the address bar you should see “https” and not “http”. There should also be small lock icon in your browser. If this is your first purchase from the company make sure the issuing company is someone you have heard of like Verisign, or Thawte.
- Never open or fill out email requests for you to update you account or credit card settings via email. These are ‘phishing’ scams people use to try and secure your personal information. Many of them are growing increasingly sophisticated and go to great lengths to look exactly like the companies website using their exact logo.