Identity theft is still pretty misunderstood in terms of preventing and repairing the damage, but citizens are growing in their awareness and understanding of it. This is mostly due to the tireless efforts of companies and agencies that work to support the victims and protect the public. As we look back on this year of identity protection efforts, here are some services we’re grateful for:
- Technology. There are a number of technological add-ons that can protect your identity and your privacy when you’re online. Anti-virus software installed on your computer will help protect you from malicious downloads that can root out your sensitive information. Using a virtual private network, or VPN, will also help protect your identity when you connect, especially over an unsecured or public network.
- Passwords. Your password is often the only thing standing between you and a thief. While most users know about password protecting their sensitive accounts, what many people fail to realize is their email is actually a gateway to almost all of their accounts. With one simple email hack a thief can change your password and lock you out; from there, he can go to all of your accounts—found by sifting through your old email messages—and click “forgot my password.” It’s only a matter of a few minutes before he can change your password on your bank account, online shopping and payment accounts, and more. All the more reason to use unique, strong passwords for all of your accounts – keeping them private and protected from prying eyes.
- Credit monitoring. Credit monitoring services can do everything from inform you of new activity, to helping you establish alerts and freezes on your credit report. These alerts and freezes are designed to keep you informed any time someone attempts to open a new line of credit in your name. If you receive a data breach notification letter offering free credit monitoring services, it’s very important that you do not just dismiss it. This letter may serve as proof that your identity has been compromised, but more importantly, it will contain the instructions to take advantage of credit monitoring.
By following some simple rules for your online and real-life behaviors, you can do a lot to protect yourself from identity and privacy violations. Of course, there may be times that a hacking event is out of your control, such as in a major data breach, which is why it’s important to have resources to rely on.
If you discover that your identity has been compromised, agencies are standing by to offer their resources and support. Don’t hesitate to call on these groups to get you started on clearing your good name, or to read helpful tips and tricks from their blogs.
- Identity Theft Resource Center. Provides identity theft victim assistance at no charge to consumers, and serves as a national resource on data breaches, fraud, and scams. To speak with a Victim Advisor, call the 24/7 toll-free call center at 888-400-5530, or visit idtheftcenter.org.
- Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. Their mission is to engage, educate and empower individuals to protect their privacy. You can read about a variety of privacy issues, and tips to stay safe at privacyrights.org.
- TRUSTe. Powers trust by ensuring businesses adhere to privacy best practices regarding the collection and use of personal data on their websites and apps. If you see the TRUSTe seal, the company provides you with control over what information they collect and how they use that information. Consumer privacy tips are available here.
- The Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Information. The FTC maintains a section of its website dedicated to privacy and identity issues. Topics include keeping children safe online, identity theft, and computer security. You can learn more here.
Eva Velasquez is president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center.