Identity Theft: Understanding of the Concept of Protecting Personal Information
The recent scandal involving stolen credit card and personal information from Target consumers over the Thanksgiving ‘black Friday’ shopping holiday weekend dramatically highlighted the risks of even using a simple credit card. Identity theft — whether of credit card numbers, , or other vital private information — is a constant, very real worry for many consumers. Depending on the nature and type of the identity theft, a variety of remedies are available although there is no single, surefire solution that will always protect one’s identity online or at brick and mortar stores. Thanks to the ubiquity of technology, identity theft is far easier and more common than it was in previous generations.
If you suspect that your credit-related information has been stolen, the first step is to place a fraud alert with one of the three major credit companies (Equifax, Experian, or Transunion). “An can make it harder for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name. When you have an alert on your report, a business must verify your identity before it issues credit, so it may try to contact you” (Place a fraud alert, 2014, FTC). It is also wise to request a credit report from one of these three major companies to screen for any errors. If there is concrete evidence that a theft has occurred, more serious measures may need to be taken, including submitting an identity theft affidavit to the FTC which will enable you to report the theft to the police. It is also possible to obtain credit monitoring, during which you will be notified of any suspicious activity on your account (Create an identity theft alert, 2014, FTC).
Although it is difficult to completely secure your credit card information at all times (other than paying cash at all retail establishments and refusing to shop online), there are also other steps you can take to radically reduce the chances your identity may be stolen. “Never submit a credit card number or other highly sensitive personal information without first making sure your connection is secure (encrypted). In Netscape, look for a closed lock (Windows) or unbroken key (Mac) icon at the bottom of the browser window” (EFF’s top ways to protect your online privacy, 2002, EFF). Be very careful of ‘phishing’ or phony emails that look like they are from legitimate banks, credit card companies, or other retailers but which actually are attempting to get you to reveal personal information which would be valuable to a scammer. Legitimate companies never ask for personal information in emails, and if you have any doubt, make sure to contact the company rather than reflexively respond to a request.
It is not only when logging into your bank and credit card information or when purchasing items online that you need to be wary, however. Social media can also be a minefield. Many people falsely believe that Facebook is secure, for example, because they are only in dialogue with ostensible ‘friends.’ Beware of “scenarios wherein Facebook users are duped into surrendering personal information through fake posts that solicit likes, votes, or link clicks. Messages have been found to lead to a page that asks users for contact details (like a phone number), and since these links are believed to be sent by a ‘friend,’ they think nothing of it and acquiesce, ending up the unwitting victims of identity theft” (Kotenko 2013). Even seemingly innocuous information can be dangerous: sharing the fact that you are going on vacation or even are away from your home can also be a clue for a thief that your home is unattended. And clues such as the year of your birth and where you are born can leave a paper trail for a potential identity thief via , given the ease with which personal information can be found via Google (Kotenko 2013). When it comes to online privacy, the less you can reveal, the better.
Create an identity theft alert. (2014). FTC. Retrieved from:
EFF’s top ways to protect your online privacy. (2002). EFF. Retrieved from:
Kotenko, J. (2013). is up and you have to be careful. Digital Trends.
Place a fraud alert. (2014). FTC. Retrieved from: