How to avoid identity theft

Identity theft is a type of cybercrime that uses email, websites, chat rooms or message boards. Fraudsters can trick you into giving out personal information such as credit card details and passwords and then use your personal information to gain benefits in your name.

Identity theft is a commonplace problem in our day and age. As we become more digitally savvy, identity thieves find more and more ways to exploit our online activity. But don’t panic just yet! You can help protect yourself from online fraud by using your common sense and knowing what to watch out for.

Here are 10 ways to help you avoid identity theft:

1. Use antivirus software

Make sure that your computer or laptop is protected with antivirus software, and make sure to keep the software up to date. Even though we call it “antivirus” there’s a lot more than viruses to be worried about these days. You need to be protected against malware. Malware is software designed specifically to disrupt, damage, or gain access to a computer system. It sneaks onto your computer and once its there, it can gain access to sensitive information and this puts you at risk. Anti-virus software companies are constantly monitoring and updating their software to keep protection in place against new malware threats, that’s why your protection is only worthwhile if your software is always up to date.

2. Use a secure network

Avoid accessing your bank account from a public computer, internet cafe or unsecured wireless network. These places make you an easy target for cyber criminals who are able to easily hack into and gain access to information on your devices.

If you have Wi-Fi at home, prevent others from using your home network by activating the highest security settings on your router.

If you’re using your personal computer in public, never leave it unattended and always log out properly once you’ve finished a banking session.

3. Don’t click on links

Trustworthy sources like banks will always communicate via their official websites. That’s why it’s best not to click on links that prompt you from emails or SMSs. If you click on a link that isn’t legitimate, you could be triggering the action the source needs in order to gain access to your computer. It’s a good idea to get in to a habit of always typing the official web address directly into your browser.

4. Be wary of email attachments

Some of the worst threats are spread through email attachments. Remember to think carefully before opening attachments even if they come from someone you know, but especially if they’re from someone you don’t know.

5. Don’t provide personal information over the phone

Be wary of phone calls from people who claim to be from your bank or other service providers. Remember that financial institutions will never ask you to disclose your PIN or password. The people who make these calls with the aim of getting information from you, can be extremely convincing. They’re often very well spoken and confident and it’s very easy to be taken in by them.

6. Create strong passwords

How many of your passwords are the same? It’s just easier to have one password that fits all right? Easier is definitely not the route you want to go when it comes to passwords. Choosing strong passwords will make it harder for identity thieves to gain access to your details. That’s why your passwords should be complex and not include any personal details like your date of birth or pet’s name. Make sure your passwords are a mixture of letters, numbers and symbols.  Your internet banking password should also be different to your passwords for your email and other logins. If too many passwords make your head spin, search the web for password manager tools. There are lots and they do make it easier to be smart about password creation.

7. Keep your passwords safe

Remember to keep your passwords and PIN private. Don’t share these details with anyone, and avoid saving them on your desktop, laptop, cellphone or other electronic device.

8. Check your bank statements

Keep an eye out for suspicious transactions by regularly checking your bank account and credit card statements. If you spot something strange, report it to your bank or card provider as soon as possible. If you’ve been a victim of identity theft, you can also report it to the South African Fraud Prevention Services (SAFPS).

9. Be cautious on social media

If you’re not careful, your social media activity could increase your risk of identity theft. Don’t leave your email address, birth date or phone number on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. If you’re using social media to communicate with your bank, cell phone provider or a store where you have an account, never put your ID number, phone number or account number in a public post.

Remember to only accept friend requests from people that you know. Strangers who ask to befriend you may actually be identity thieves.

10. Shred bank and credit card statements

Identity thieves could gain access to your information by going through your rubbish. Shred confidential financial information before throwing it away to stop them in their tracks!

Your identity is precious, so control the things you can in order to protect it.


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