When you stop on the corner to make a cell call, you’re probably not thinking about having your cell phone number stolen. When you send important, personal documents by email, you assume that they’ll get there securely.
The fact is, with increased connectivity of computers and laptops, tablets, smart phones, and other digital devices, professional hackers and even the nice waitress who serves you lunch could be ripping off critical information.
Here’s how they do it, and here’s what you can do to help keep private information private.
1. Stealing cell phone numbers. Digital devices, available to anyone, can capture cell phone information, including your telephone number, contacts list, and all of the other information stored on that essential device. These devices capture the international mobile subscriber identity (IMSI) number. With it, bad guys can clone your phone and start calling anywhere in the world on your dime.
Sometimes these phone clones are sold for cash. If you know where to look, you can find a cell phone that “belongs” to someone else, and use it to call a country 10 time zones away.
To help stop this kind of personal data theft, keep your public calls short. It can take up to 90 seconds to capture your phone’s IMSI. If you’re calling from a public place, keep the call as short as possible to help avoid cell phone IMSI theft. Not only can it be used to learn your identity, but it can even track your location using the GPS chip in your smart phone.
2. Social networking. Most of us stop by Facebook® to see what’s up, and maybe post our latest news. A lot of us have complete profiles on sites like LinkedIn® – profiles that include an address, telephone number, and other information. We tend to trust these sites to keep our private information private, but it isn’t top secret when it’s posted right there on your profile page.
Visit all social media sites where you provide personal contact information. Remove any information that might be used to “create” a new you – a fake version of you who applies for, and gets, credit cards, loans, and even a new car.
Keep your online presence small, secret and never post information that can be used to create a new person called – YOU!
3. Online file storage. Free online data storage services can be used to store personal information offsite in case your computer crashes. These tools enable you to store and send a lot of information, all at once, from your computer to a friend’s computer, or your accountant’s computer.
Check the level of encryption provided by the data storage service you choose. Some are simply big “pipelines” to deliver lots of data quickly. Others are used to store critical personal information “in the cloud” – some place other than your computer, tablet or smart phone.
There’s software you can add to your online file storage account to protect it from hackers, who trawl these data-rich sites because that’s where the “good stuff” is – names, birthdates, Social Security numbers, account numbers.
Even if your cloud storage service “guarantees” security, nothing is guaranteed, and that kind of talk can make hackers even more eager to break in and steal your identity.
4. Your computer. Unless you tell it otherwise, your computer stores your browsing history, providing a list of every site you ever visited. Hackers, who have downloaded identity theft software to your computer (when you opened that innocent looking email), now know where you go online.
They can follow you, log every keystroke you make, including account numbers, passwords and other sensitive data, and you won’t even know it’s happening – until it’s too late. Once your online identity has been compromised, it can take months to clean up the mess.
Regularly delete your browser history, or fix your web browser’s settings to “Do Not Track.” Access this option through your computer’s control panel, in most cases.
Don’t assume your home-based router is secure. “War driving” is the act of searching for Wi-Fi wireless networks by a person in a moving vehicle, using a portable computer or PDA.
War drivers cruise around with an antenna and a laptop looking for digital leakage – a router signal that extends beyond the parameter of your home. It’s easy to log on to your home-based network and follow you as you move from site to site, entering passwords as you go. War drivers can also plant Trojans, spyware and other “black hat” software on your computer, even though they’re parked across the street.
Purchase encryption software and maintain your computer’s security software. Upgrade your security software because new viruses and worms are being developed every day, so the protection you had yesterday may not help protect you today.
5. Your credit cards.
- Never give out your credit card number unless you initiated the purchase.
- Never loan your credit card to friends, family, or anyone else.
- Always know where your credit card is. That nice waitress may carry a “skimmer,” a device that collects all credit card information with a swipe. She leaves the table to get your bill, skims your credit card information, and returns with the bill.
- Make sure you’re on a secure website page when entering credit card information. Look for the prefix “https” in the address box at the top of your computer screen. The “s” indicates an encrypted page – a safe page to enter credit card information. No “s?” No sale.
6. Paper documents. The deed to the house, credit card statements, telephone bills, invoices from online retailers – all of this paperwork contains enough information to create a virtual, online you. Invest in an inexpensive shredder to shred every piece of sensitive paperwork in the house.
Rent a safe deposit box for important documents like the deed, birth certificates, a spare emergency credit card, and other valuable documents and information. Change to online bill pay and skip paper altogether to better help protect your information. Not only is your payment data encrypted, but by using less paper you’re helping the environment.
Only you can protect “you” in this age of digital connectivity. Take a few minutes now to help protect your personal information and keep it out the hands of the bad guys.
The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice.
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