January 01, 2010 · Security

Prevention of Online Identity Theft

When shopping online, be wary of fake web sites designed to steal your information and, ultimately, your identity. Be careful about sites that store your online information. Do not shop from a public computer since other users may be able to access your stored usernames and passwords. Shop only from web sites that use encryption, or scrambling, to protect your information. Make sure the web site address begins with "https:" instead of "http:"This indicates that encryption is being used.

"Phishing" or "pharming" attacks are growing more sophisticated and difficult to detect. Some phishing attacks use viruses and/or Trojans to install programs called "key loggers" on your computer. These programs capture and send out information that you type in directly to the phisher, including credit card numbers, user names and passwords. Some may create a Pop Up alert asking for your private information to authenticate you or your computer to a financial institution.

If you feel that you have been tricked into giving out any of your confidential personal information, you run a high risk of becoming the next victim of identity theft or other financial fraud. Take the following steps to protect yourself and your finances:

  1. Install and/or update anti-virus and personal firewall software. Run full virus scans every time you log onto your computer.
  2. Confirm every connection that your firewall allows. Ensure that your browser is up to date and security patches are applied.
  3. Log into your accounts regularly.
  4. Consider installing a web browser tool bar to help protect you and to detect known phishing web sites.
  5. Be suspicious of any unsolicited e-mails with urgent requests or demands for personal financial information. If the e-mail threatens to "suspend" or "freeze" your account access, you can be assured that this is some type of scam.
  6. Don't use the links in any e-mail that you suspect might not be authentic. Call the company directly or log onto their web site by typing in the web address in your browser.
  7. Avoid filling out forms in e-mail messages that ask for personal financial information. Communicate information of this type via a secure web site only.
  8. Ensure that you are using a secure web site when submitting credit card or other sensitive information via your web browser. Check the beginning of the web address bar; it should be https:// rather than just http://. Look for the closed lock at the bottom of the site.
  9. Regularly check all of your accounts: eBay, PayPal, or online trading accounts that hackers may have accessed without your knowledge or permission.
  10. Report phishing or "spoofed" e-mails to the following groups:
    • Forward the email to reportphishing@antiphishing.com.
    • Forward the email to the FTC at spam@uce.gov.
    • Notify the Internet Fraud Complaint Center of the FBI at www.ifccfbi.gov.
    • Forward the email to the "abuse" customer complaint site of the company that is being spoofed.
    • Always forward the entire body of the e-mail, including the header, so the investigators have a better chance of identifying the spoofers.

Additionally, you can file formal complaints concerning any suspected fraudulent e-mail with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at www.ic3.gov. The IC3 is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National White Collar Crime Center and the Bureau of Justice Assistance.

ID Theft

Identity theft is America's fastest growing crime. Last year alone, more than 9.9 million Americans were victims of identity theft, a crime that cost those victims around $5 billion dollars. Identity theft can involve credit card fraud, Internet fraud, or mail theft, among many other crimes.

Identity theft is a serious crime. It occurs when someone uses your personal information such as your name, social security number, or other identifying information without your permission to commit fraud or other crimes. Identity thieves may use a variety of methods to obtain your personal information, which may include "dumpster diving," stealing your wallet or purse, mail theft, or computer hacking. People whose identities have been stolen can spend months or years trying to clean up the financial mess that thieves have made of their good name and credit record.

If you think that you have been the victim of identity theft, immediately contact your financial institution! Contact the three credit bureaus and have a fraud alert placed on your accounts. File a police report with your local authorities and keep detailed records.

For more information go to www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/.