How to Prevent Identity Theft on the Internet
By Kevin Mercadante
How to protect yourself from identity theft takes on a whole new dimension when it comes to the Internet. The Internet is one giant exchange of information, so you have to be extremely careful how much of your own information you’re making available out there.
The best way to prevent identity theft is to keep the distribution of your information to an absolute minimum, and provide it on only very select sites, and in very limited circumstances.
How to Know If You’ve Been Hit With Identity Theft: Check Your Credit Score
Probably the worst way to find out that you’re a victim of identity theft is when either your bank account has been cleaned out, or one or more charge cards has been maxed-out. The better way is to check your credit score on a regular basis, which you can do by subscribing to credit monitoring services, which we’ll get into in more detail in a moment.
This is important because a significant drop in your credit score can indicate that your identity has been compromised, and that things are starting to happen with your credit. A major change in your credit score will let you know that this is happened.
Get a Really Good Anti-Virus Software
One of the most basic ways how to protect yourself from identity theft starts with getting a good antivirus software. This is important because your computer could become infected with malicious software, including one or more “bots” that could potentially steal your identity.
In this way, your information could be stolen from you without your even knowing it. A really good antivirus software will help you to avoid that problem.
Be Careful Where You Shop Online
Limit online transactions only to trusted vendors. If you aren’t sure about a vendor or website, make payment with either a prepaid debit card, or with a PayPal card, since neither will provide the recipient with any personal information.
Also be sure that any sites where you make a payment has a URL that begins with httpS. The “s” means a payment page is secure, and is unlikely to be hacked by unintended third parties.
Losing money in a fraudulent transaction will be bad enough. But losing your identity in the process will be far worse, because it will enable a thief to conduct a series of transactions that will not only cost more money, but will also destroy your credit and your identity.
Be Even More Careful Giving Out Information on Your Email
If it’s possible to say, email may be an even greater threat for identity theft than shopping online. This is because it’s very easy for the information to end up in the wrong hands. For example, let’s say that you provide a credit card number to a friend through email. That email can easily be forwarded – often unintentionally – and your credit card number can end in the wrong hands.
Phishing schemes are another major source of identity theft when it comes emails. In a phishing scheme the thief poses as one of your financial institutions, by sending you a copy of the email from an institution, but only after modifying it to request your personal information, account access codes, and credit card information. They can be incredibly convincing.
Any institution that you actually have a relationship with will never ask for any of this information, since they already have it on file. Never, ever respond to an email that asks for this information, or looks the least bit suspicious or questionable. When in doubt, contact your actual financial institution to verify the information. It will almost certainly be a scam.
Using Credit Monitoring Services To Protect Yourself From Identity Theft
Earlier we touched on how important it is to check your credit score. This is the best way to know that you may be a victim of identity theft very early in the process when you still have the ability to take action to limit the damage.
This is worth emphasizing!
Think of credit monitoring services as your “eyes” on the security of your identity. The services are always monitoring your credit, and always reporting back to you when there’s a problem. No, using a credit monitoring services generally won’t prevent identity theft, but it can help you to minimize the damage once it happens. For example, you can freeze your credit, or put a statement on your credit report letting potential creditors know to contact you directly before granting credit in your name.
Want to learn how you can better protect your identity? Click here to learn about the benefits of purchasing identity theft protection.
About Kevin Mercadante
Kevin Mercadante is a freelance professional personal finance blogger, and the owner of his own personal finance blog, OutOfYourRut.com. He has extensive backgrounds in both accounting and the mortgage industry. Follow Kevin on Google+.