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Identity theft: Best practices for prevention

By Brooke Faulkner

In a world more connected than ever before, the internet is the “information superhighway” that bridges it all together. Unfortunately, not all the information being traded is willingly given. All over the world, data breaches and identity theft are nothing new. In 2019, a new cybersecurity risk seems to pop up on the horizon nearly every week. With the damage related to cybersecurity threats estimated to hit over $6 trillion by 2021, it’s more important than ever to ensure your data and your identity are protected.

Luckily, analytics professionals are tirelessly working around the world to help businesses prevent data breaches and working on ways that individuals can protect their information too.

What is Identity Theft?

The first step in protecting yourself from identity theft is to know what it is. Identity theft, known also as identity fraud, is when someone’s personal and financial data is illegally obtained by a thief through deception or fraud, usually for the financial gain of the thief.

Once your identity is stolen and your data compromised, the identity thief can:

  • Apply for loans or credit cards in the victim’s name
  • Withdraw funds from bank accounts
  • Use health insurance to obtain medical care
  • Sell the information to other criminals
  • Use the victim’s social security number to take their tax refund

Identity theft has become so widespread that the United States government made it a federal-level crime.

There are many types of identity theft that can impact the lives of consumers. The most common are tax-related fraud, utility or phone fraud, bank fraud, and credit card fraud. You must stay diligent to ensure your data isn’t compromised, but you’re not alone in your efforts. Many companies around the globe, both large and small, are taking steps to ensure that their customer’s data is safe and secure.

How Businesses are Coping

There are several steps companies can take now, and in the future, to help keep their data safe and sound. These measures include:

  • Hiring a cybersecurity specialist: Companies need to learn from past data breaches and bring a specialist on board to help them keep best practices at the forefront of their minds.
  • Building awareness:Social engineering is utilized by most successful data security breaches, so it’s important for employees and individuals to work on strengthening passwords and utilizing top-of-the-line antivirus programs.
  • Getting employees involved: Employees should be regularly trained on how to generate strong passwords, store and file data, avoid malware, and encrypt data. An educated workforce is the best defense companies have against cyber-attacks and security breaches.
  • Learning the FINRA checklist: Businesses can find a detailed cybersecurity checklist on the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s website to help them double check their existing security measures.
  • Enforcing strict permissions: Many data breaches are due to employee breaches, which is why businesses are diligent about ensuring employees only have access to the information they need to perform their jobs.

Aside from these steps, a business must also put a plan in place to deal with data breaches. Most businesses utilize a comprehensive data security strategy to help protect their employees, customers, and themselves. This risk management initiative is a prevention, detection, response, and resiliency plan that requires regular reassessment.

How You Can Cope

You trust companies with your data and rely on them to protect it, but that’s only one piece of the data protection and identity theft prevention pie. You must also take steps to ensure that your personal data is protected when you’re at home and when you travel in order to protect yourself.

study done by Experian found that just 18% of adults in the United States use a credit monitoring product to help keep their identities secure. Most people rely on their credit card companies and banks to help them thwart potential identity theft, but that’s simply not enough.

There are steps you need to take in order to protect yourself personally and professionally. Identify theft can happen in a number of different ways, so knowing where you need to be extra vigilant is important. Here are just some of the ways you can do this:

  • Protect your information with passwords: All devices you own should be password protected. Your computer and smartphone, as well as all your financial accounts (including any cryptocurrency accounts), should only be accessible with a password. The stronger your password, the better. 
  • Mix it up: Do not use the same password for everything. Someone looking to steal your identity is counting on the fact that you’ll use the same password for all of your accounts. Make sure to mix up your passwords and never include your birthday as a number in any of them. If you ever suspect an account has been breached, change your password immediately. Even if you don’t suspect a breach, change your passwords periodically to be safe.
  • Watch the websites: Never click on suspicious-looking links in text messages or emails. Identity thieves use websites and emails that look similar to credit card company or bank sites to lull you into a false sense of security. If you suspect a link isn’t legit, then never click on it and never enter your password or username on an unfamiliar screen.
  • Check your credit: It’s important to regularly check for any type of suspicious activity on your financial accounts. Credit reports can help you find any discrepancies, so view them frequently to ensure your data and personal information is safe.
  • Shred mail and documents: Whether it’s mail or documents with important information, or junk mail with just your name and address, be sure you shred any papers with your information on it before throwing it away. Plenty of thieves find all the information they need to steal your identity by rifling through your garbage, so make sure there is nothing to find.

The takeaway? The security of your personal data is not something you, or the companies that have access to it, should take for granted. Data thieves are lurking around every corner and they’re ready to strike at individuals and corporations that are the most vulnerable and unprepared. Stop being a target and do everything you can to keep your identity safe.

Brooke Faulkner is a writer and mom based in the Pacific Northwest. She writes about issues important to her and her family, in hopes that spreading knowledge will help inform people on the decisions being made that affect their lives. You can find more of her writing on contently or twitter!

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Foreign Policy News is a self-financed initiative providing a venue and forum for political analysts and experts to disseminate analysis of major political and business-related events in the world, shed light on particulars of U.S. foreign policy from the perspective of foreign media and present alternative overview on current events affecting the international relations.

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