From: Bob Rankin
Subject: TOURBUS - 07 OCT 03 - Identity Theft
Remember that 1995 movie "The Net", starring Sandra Bullock? Okay, I didn't see it either. Somehow I couldn't imagine Sandra as a software engineer after watching her in "While You Were Sleeping". But I digress... "The Net" was a story about identity theft, and that's the topic we'll explore in today's TOURBUS.
Before we get to our topic of the day, I want to encourage you to visit the freshly-updated TOURBUS website. Photos of Bob and Patrick, more Very Strange Things On The Web, and the ARCHIVES ARE BACK! Check out several years of back issues or search by keyword.
It sounds scary. But should you be afraid? You may be wondering exactly what the phrase "identity theft" means. Perhaps it conjures up images of evil plastic surgeons, or someone standing on the street corner yelling "Stop that man -- he just stole my IDENTITY!" And ironically, the policeman says "Who are you?"
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information (usually without your knowledge) to commit fraud or theft. It's a problem that existed before the Internet, or even computers. But computers and the Internet might make it easier for Bad People to learn your name, address, birthdate, social security number, credit card, bank account or driver's license number.
And armed with some or all of that data, it becomes possible for a criminal to invade your privacy, run up a tab at your expense, open bank accounts, apply for loans, establish phone or utility service, request a postal change of address, or even commit crimes in your name.
Who Wants to Be a Billionaire?
Even if you're not a billionaire, you could put yourself at risk of identity theft if you're not careful. If you don't want to be among the 500,000 people who are victims of identity scammers each year, here are some things you can do to protect yourself, both online and offline:
+ Never send personal information such as credit card or social security numbers by email. Think of email the same as a post card, in terms of security.
+ Don't reveal your password to anyone. At websites that require a login, use something other than your primary userid & password.
+ Put as little as possible in online profiles, especially if you use AOL. Make sure children in your care understand this also.
+ Be very careful at public Internet terminals, ATMs and phone booths. Someone could be "shoulder surfing" to learn your password, PIN code or calling card number.
+ When you're in a public place and you have to enter private data, use the "two finger" method. Put both of your index fingers on the keyboard or keypad, and pretend to press a key with one hand, while pressing the desired key with the other. With practice, you can enter your password or PIN number in a way that makes it virtually impossible for snoops to detect.
+ When making an online purchase, be sure the merchant uses a secure server. (The site address should begin with HTTPS instead of HTTP.)
+ Don't respond to messages informing you that you've won a prize, if they require you to provide a credit card number, SSN, etc. in order to claim the booty.
+ Don't respond to messages informing you that you've won a prize, period. NEWS FLASH: You didn't win. It's either a spammer or a scammer trying to get money or personal info from you.
+ Keep a close watch on laptops, PDAs and cell phones when you're in a public place. Protect access to these devices with a password.
+ If you sell a computer or hard disk, make sure the disk is wiped clean. But deleting files or even formatting the disk may not be enough. I suggest a digital "file shredder". You can find a free program to do this at Download.com by searching for "file shredder" or "secure delete".
Here are some good sites that provide more information on identity theft and tips on protecting your personal privacy. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has a useful website with information about identity theft.
Another resource created by the FTC is "ID Theft: When Bad Things Happen To Your Good Name".
In my next article, I'll discuss the topic of online privacy in more detail. That's all for now, I'll see you next time! --Bob Rankin