The many new faces of online identity theft
Phishing, pharming, spoofing, smishing —what do all these words mean? Each one has to do with online hackers and your personal information. Almost everyone today who does anything online has had some experience with unscrupulous companies or people. Phishing for example is when you get an email that looks like it’s coming from your bank or PayPal or EBay, but is actually a fake. It instructs you to click on a provided link to “confirm” your information. The link is phony and will take you to a website that collects your personal information and allows thieves access to your account.
Different words, same result
Then there’s pharming, also known as spoofing, where hackers redirect legitimate online traffic to their own website, and smishing, where criminals use cell phone text messages to get you to divulge your personal information. Regardless of the name, each one of the above are things hackers use to steal your personal information. They may use the information themselves by trying to withdraw money from your account, or they may sell it to a third-party, black-market company. Either way, you’ll have some trouble fixing the problem once your information is compromised.
Hackers are getting smarter
Some people think they can outsmart hackers by eliminating the computer from their daily bill payment method. Sure this may cut out some of the above tactics, but rest assured there are others. Hackers spend hours devising ways of stealing information. They also use vishing, or “voice phishing,” to leave you automated phone messages from fake banks or credit card companies. The message will ask you to confirm your information in order to get details about where you are keep your money.
There’s also bank-card skimming where thieves actually put bogus ATM machines. When you enter your card, your information is captured and when you enter your pin, they have that too. A simple portable card reader does the trick and can leave you vulnerable to theft.
Not to spread alarm, but . . .
The solution is not to stop answering phone calls or get rid of your credit cards. Phones and credit cards are modern necessities. But the reality is that you have to protect yourself. Here are some basic tips to remember about identity theft:
- Order your credit report yearly. You are allowed one free report every year from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Get them, review them, and make sure everything is accurate, including account numbers and balances, your name, and addresses.
- Never give your personal information to anyone over the phone or online. Remember that your bank, PayPal, EBay and your credit card company already have your personal information. There is no reason for them to request it again.
- If you are self-employed, do business on your own computer and never a public one. Even after you sign out, you may leave valuable information on a public computer. Wireless connections are also more dangerous when dealing with business issues.
- Protect yourself when you are at an ATM. Don’t be afraid to let someone go before you if you think they are standing too close. Also, be sure to never keep your PIN near your card. There’s a reason why banks tell you to pick a number you can easily remember.
- Use the paperless option when it comes to your bank statement. Thieves will go through your mail and garbage to get your information. Handling transactions online leaves no physical record for anyone to steal.
Keep your guard up
These are just some of the ways you can protect your identity and your finances from hackers and thieves. Be vigilant and careful with your information. Theft in general and identity theft in particular, can be difficult to sort out when it happens to you.