Tips to avoid becoming an identity theft victim

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MANILA, Philippines – The public should be more vigilant in protecting personal details to prevent identity theft, a developer of secure content and threat management solution has said, citing an annual study.

Performed by California-based Javelin Strategy and Research, the study showed that in the US alone, around 12.6 million people fell victim to identity theft in 2012, losing at least $21 billion. Identity theft is an act wherein a person or a group of persons wrongfully obtain and utilize personal and often crucial information from other people, often for financial gains.

These data can be anything, from school or government records, medical reports, financial accounts, company-related information, email addresses of other people who could also be targeted, among others.

In the Philippines, there have been many reports of identity theft against individuals or companies. But because there are no specific agencies that could do tracking, victims often end up pursuing the long process of resetting their passwords in their PCs, bank accounts, and other areas where they have stored personal data, often daunting tasks. As such, data on how many victims there are or how much has been lost to identity theft remains elusive.

Developer Kaspersky Lab provides several tips to effectively fight identity theft:

* Practice good password security: Strong passwords are critical; they should be long combinations of letters, numerals and non-alphanumeric symbols; never use names or words found in a dictionary. Change the passwords as frequently as you can. Use different (and dissimilar) logins for each online account, and create separate email accounts to which you link only your online finances.

* Don’t Store Financial Data: It’s really convenient to keep your credit card number and billing address stored in every website you use to shop for things online, but because security breaches of websites are disturbingly common, play it safe and don’t do it. It’ll be worth the extra minute it takes to add that information each time you check out. Always properly exit websites where you’ve used your credit card or other payment methods, especially if you’ve used a public PC.

* Always know what scams are out there: Online scams come in all forms. Whether it’s easily recognizable, like an email from a member of an African royal family who wants to give you millions of dollars, or something seemingly trustworthy like a password reset notification that appears to be sent by your credit card company, be equally suspicious of any online communication — by email or social media — that asks you for personal information or to download a document or even to click through to a new web page. Always be vigilant and skeptical.

* Protect your social networks: One of the more insidious forms of identity theft comes from attackers who steal your personal information to create a duplicate social media presence that tricks others into believing they are interacting and exchanging information with you, when in fact they are not. Whether it’s done as a prank or to obtain sensitive data from others, it can result in terrible damage to your reputation. Prevent this by periodically searching yourself in Google and on Facebook to make sure you are the only you out there. If you’re not, use the appropriate abuse reporting tools for the respective platform and shut it down ASAP.

* Act quickly: Much like the social media presence reaction, if you think you have been the victim of identity or data theft, act fast. Contact your bank, email provider or whichever service has been compromised and get to the bottom of it. Identity theft, usually financially motivated, can have disastrous effects, especially on your credit.

* Update your apps: Identity thieves also use the same methods utilized by cybercriminals; they exploit vulnerabilities in software to gain access to computers. Regularly updating your software should prevent cybercriminals from utilizing their vulnerabilities.

* Get a safety package: It’s always a smart idea to have a security solution such as those provided by Kaspersky Lab. These applications provide the best protection from various forms of malicious attacks. Investing in such software would save you a whole lot of money in the long run and reduce your anxiety of ever falling victims to identity thieves.

There are many ways of acquiring personal information illegally, though the Internet has become a common tool for criminals to do identity theft. Some criminals use malicious software to infect unprotected PCs, the malware searches for every personal data in the infected PC, which are then sent to the original source of the malware.

The information is then used in a variety of ways such as selling it to other criminal organizations, for blackmail, or in the case of those whose credit card accounts were stolen, to make purchases without the knowledge of the credit card owner.

In most cases, victims actually don’t know they were or are still victims especially when their PCs remain unprotected by legitimate security applications. Many victims of identity thieves tend to lose large amounts of money or even damage their reputation. Some victims become targets for blackmail or their data become “hostage” unless they pay off the criminals. Indeed, identity theft is a huge problem.

Despite the obvious prevalence of identity theft, absolute data is very difficult to acquire largely because most victims fail to report the issue. Thieves are also often difficult to track because they use sophisticated processes of using “zombie” networks that hide their true locations.

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