According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) Annual Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book, online fraud cost consumers more than $1.5 billion in 2011, with identity fraud and identity theft garnering 70 percent of total complaints. With fraud complaints more than doubling over the past five years, protecting private information is more critical than ever for those who rely on the internet for communicating personal and financial data. If identity theft hasn't concerned you in the past, it's time to reconsider.
In a society with so much reliance on the internet, users are significantly unaware of the security risks that exist online. Cyber criminals are more conniving than ever and are leveraging sophisticated techniques and tools to gather personal identifiable information about users in an effort to take over a person's identity for personal and financial gain.
According to ID Theft Protect, a leading resource for consumers on identity fraud, identity theft and data privacy, the five most popular methods of identity fraud and theft include:
- Application fraud: using stolen or counterfeit documents to open an account under a false name
- Account ID take-over: using personal information to take over a person's bank or credit accounts
- Mail non-receipt card fraud: stealing new or replaced bank and credit cards as they are in the process of being mailed by a card company
- Phishing e-mail fraud: posing as a legitimate institution in order to capture personal or financial information by e-mail
- Pharming fraud: redirecting a person to a bogus website in order to capture credentials, like an online banking username and password
In order to prevent falling victim to these cyber crimes, people need to actively protect their private information and be judicious about what they share online. There are a number of methods to employ to protect your online identity, as well as actions to take if you think your private information has been compromised, including:
- Install security software (anti-virus, anti-spyware and firewall software) to ensure your PC remains up-to-date on the latest online threats
- Use an updated Web browser so that you're taking advantage of the browser's latest security features
- Be aware of the latest scams so that you know what you're protecting your private information
- Be wary of links and attachments in both e-mail and instant messages. Use caution even if the message appears to be from a safe sender, as identity information online can easily be manipulated
- Safeguard your personally identifiable information (PII): Always be judicious when offering your PII and find out why the information is needed. Also, be mindful about over sharing personal information on social networking sites, as these can be ripe for attack
- Document your financial data and transactions: Regularly reviewing your statements and keeping records of your transactions can ensure you are aware of all activity and changes to your account
- Monitor your credit closely: Your credit report contains information about your credit accounts and bill paying history so you can be notified when someone is impersonating you. Watch for suspicious signs, like accounts you did not open
Scamming for information is nothing new, but today's advancements in technology and users' increased reliance on the Internet provide a fresh means for fraud. Because new tools and techniques are enabling cyber criminals to increasingly take advantage of online information, it is critical that users take a proactive approach to countering fraud and protecting their online identities. Incorporating safe online practices, like the ones outlined above, can greatly reduce the risk of falling victim and ensure you're safe from identity theft.