Avoiding Identity Theft - dummies

By Anthony Moore, Stephen R. Bucci

Part of Debt Repair Kit For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Identity theft occurs whenever someone uses your personal details to gain some financial advantage, such as taking out a loan in your name. Identity theft is a growing crime in Australia, as well as in other parts of the world. Follow these tips to keep your personal details secure.

  • Lock your letterbox. A fraudster can use items sent to you in the mail to find out details about you and your accounts. For example, credit-card companies sometimes send credit cards in the mail and follow up with the PIN a couple of days later. The first mailing alerts the fraudster.

  • Check the flashing light near the card slot at the ATM. A crook can record, or skim, the details of your credit card by attaching a sensor device to or near the slot that receives your card. However, the skimming device often blocks the flashing light that’s a permanent feature of most ATM slots. Check that the flashing light is working before using the ATM.

  • Keep your computer data secure. If you work with other people, don’t leave passwords sitting on your desk. Ensure the passwords that give access to sensitive information, especially your financial details, are impossible to hack into. Computer hackers have very sophisticated ways of getting into your computer, so regularly upgrade your firewall and spyware protection.

  • Make your financial transactions online. Handling your finances through the mail can be less safe than over the Web. Get your bills and statements sent to your password-protected computer, rather than have them sent to your mailbox.

  • Know the risks of having an online presence. Being able to link up with friends and family through the social networking Web site Facebook is a great way to keep in touch. Unfortunately, the crooks quickly learn how to get around Facebook’s security measures, so be careful with what you upload to the site.

  • Be careful when giving out personal information over the Internet or the phone. Unless you’ve initiated the transaction, don’t give any details. Even if the caller sounds genuine, you can’t be sure of their identity. Ask for their contact details so that you can call back, and even then, don’t simply trust the number you’ve been given.

  • Don’t reply to unsolicited e-mails that ask for your bank account details. If it’s too good to be true, it usually is! Never give out any personal or financial information; they’re almost certainly scams.

  • Never click on a link or open an attachment to an email from someone you don’t know and trust. Opening attachments or clicking on links in emails can download malicious software into your computer. Type in the Web address yourself, rather than relying on a link.

  • Shred the evidence. Get a good home shredder and shred all financial statements that bear account numbers before you put the statements out for recycling. As well as statements for savings accounts, cheque accounts and credit cards, don’t forget all those pre-approved offers for credit that you receive.