Identity theft continues to be a growing problem in the United States. Thieves have developed many ways to steal identifying information, and in most cases, the victim doesn’t realize it’s happened until weeks or even months later.
Going through the trash to extract valuable personal information, using skimmers at retail stores to collect debit and credit card numbers, or even looking over someone’s shoulder at the bank are all ways that thieves can gather information. However, sometimes information is disclosed by accident.
An excellent example of this was seen in a recent article on FoxNews.com. A man ordered a tie and a pocket square through the retail chain store, Banana Republic, which is owned by Gap, Inc. When his package arrived, it was filled with the confidential employee files of over twenty former employees. They contained an enormous amount of valuable information, including social security numbers, tax forms and other documents.
Fortunately, the couple who received the package, which had been mislabeled by employees at Gap, Inc., was an honest couple. Once they knew what type of mistake had been made, they immediately informed the company of the error. The company, in turn, informed the effected employees. When asked why the error was made in the first place, the company had no other explanation to offer other than it was a general human mistake.
Regardless of the reasons behind the mistake, these types of errors happen all-too frequently. However, there are steps you can take to avoid identity theft. In fact, they are steps that everyone should take, to ensure that their confidential information remains confidential.
Strengthen Your Passwords and Pin Numbers
Many people rely on one or two passwords, and one pin number, for just about everything. While this makes it easier for you to remember these important words and numbers, it puts you in jeopardy for having your identity stolen. If you’ve been guilty of this in the past, there are a few things you can do:
• Vary the password you use slightly for each account you have
• Incorporate numbers and symbols into your passwords if you can
• Use an online program to create a password that’s virtually uncrackable
• Change your passwords often
• Avoid using birth dates, pets’ names or other easily-guessed information in your password or pin number
Keep Your Computer Protected
With the use of certain software, an identity thief can steal your information directly from your computer without alerting you at all. Spyware and keyloggers are often used to track passwords, which are then used to compromise accounts later on. To protect your computer, keep your firewall updated, and make sure anti-virus and anti-spyware programs are installed and run frequently.
Watch Out for Phishing Scams
Phishing scams come in the form of seemingly harmless emails that are sent to you in the name of a company you trust. The emails may take on various forms, however, they always include asking you to confirm an important number such as a password, pin number, or credit card number. If you do get one of these suspicious emails, instead of clicking on the link that’s included, go directly to the company’s website and check your information there.
Use Care When Shopping Online
Companies use a lock icon on their websites to guarantee the safety of your credit card information. If you don’t see this icon, don’t use the website. It’s also a good idea to keep a separate credit card that you use only for online transactions. That way, if identity theft does occur, you’ll still have a valid credit card or two in your wallet. It’s also never a good idea to store your information with any company’s website.
Sometimes, as the case of the information sent by Gap, Inc., it’s not possible to completely safeguard your information. However, there are many steps you can take to ensure that your identifying data is always safe and protected.