by Michael Argast, TELUS
Criminals steal billions of dollars from people and businesses every year – identity theft is a key tool in their arsenal. By stealing personal information from your mail, online accounts or directly through scams, they are able to impersonate you to open up new credit card accounts in your name, steal money from your bank account or even take over your identity. Following a few simple steps will help reduce the risk of your money and life being stolen – learn these tricks and teach them to your friends and family.
1. Protect your mobile phones, tablets and computers with strong passwords.
Your mobile devices often have a plethora of personal data – contacts, address books, banking information, private notes. If your phone or computer is stolen, and not password protected, it is easy for a criminal to go through these devices and steal your information. Worse, they can use your phone to impersonate you and attack your friends and families with scams. Unfortunately, device theft and loss is very common – it is estimated that one in three people will lose a mobile phone, computer or tablet this year. Locking your devices with passwords, encrypting them and using remote wipe software if lost or stolen can dramatically reduce the risk.
2. Check your credit report, bank statements and credit card statements regularly.
If criminals have managed to steal your identity, they will still need to open credit accounts in your name to cash in. Regularly checking credit reports will help spot these before the situation gets out of hand. Also, regularly check your credit cards and bank statements for erroneous charges – often criminals will try to place small charges (less than $10) in order to verify an account is active and to avoid raising suspicion.
3. Shred your financial paperwork or other documents with your name, address and personal information.
Examples include preapproved credit card offers, bank or investment statements, loan applications, government correspondence. Shredding these before disposal will help prevent ‘dumpster diving’ – criminals who go through garbage to steal information. Also – make sure your mailbox is secure – criminals love easy pickings like externally attached mailboxes. Instead, get a mailslot that allows the mail carrier to push your mail into your home beyond the reach of criminals. If you have a post office box which is outside and out of view, consider getting as much mail through secure online correspondence instead of paper correspondence to reduce the risk of theft.
4. Be cautious when shopping online.
Don’t follow links in emails, and stick to well known, reputable online stores. Make sure that when browsing to these sites that you are using a HTTPS connection – look for the ‘lock’ icon. Avoid shopping on public wifi networks where it is easier to sniff your traffic and intercept your credentials. Use different, strong usernames and passwords for different websites, and when possible, avoid having your credit card stored online on these sites.
5. Don’t give your information out over the phone.
Scammers regularly use phone calls as a way of getting your credit card or other private details. They can call up with convincing stories – your computer being infected, being a relative traveling and needing assistance, even your phone company or credit card company. The elderly are particularly susceptible to these forms of attacks, and attackers can collect information online from social networks to seem more plausible. If you need to deal with a service provider, hang up when you get called and call them back – at a number on your bill or on their website, rather than one provided by an attacker on the phone.
6. Share these tips with friends and family.
People don’t like talking about money, but it is important to talk about how to keep your money safe. Take the time to share these and other tips with your friends and family, so they don’t fall victim to scams. It will help you all sleep better at night.
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