Because most people now spend an enormous amount of time online, businesses and organizations are eager to find ways to use that activity to their advantage. In many cases, that means tracking user habits, which they use to tailor and target advertisements. On social media sites and even some retail sites, user information is logged and tracked, which has led to increased concern about privacy. During , the American Library Association is drawing attention to the issue and advocating for consumers to stand up for their privacy.
Much of the worry is tied to whether a company allows users to opt in or opt out of such information tracking. In many cases, users have no choice, and that can leave them in a vulnerable position. For those who take pains to limit the personal information they put on the Web, "data mining" (the collection of personal user data) can undo all their efforts. If identity thieves are able to hack into the systems of a data mining company, they would have easy access to an incredible amount of exploitable information.
So, what can the average person do to limit their exposure?
* Read user agreements. Those popups filled with legalese often contain information about how a website will use identifying data and other information. Simply scrolling through and clicking "accept" is a bad idea for those concerned about where their data is going.
* Think twice about customer rewards programs. While getting coupons and discounts is a great draw, consumers enrolled in rewards programs are giving up their purchase history (and sometimes credit card information) to a corporation or organization. If hacked, that information could be used by thieves to commit .
* Minimalize social media. Lots of social media sites do data mining-Facebook is particularly noted for it, in privacy circles. Read all social media privacy policies carefully, and if there's something you find questionable, you might want to terminate your membership.
Anyone who has logged into a financial institution's website in the last few years knows the drill. Enter an ID, a and then answer a range of questions, ranging from the basic ("What's your mother's maiden name?") to the silly ("What was the name of your favorite stuffed animal?"). Banks and credit card companies put those questions in place as an extra layer of security to protect your accounts and guard against , but it turns out that they aren't always effective.
Some questions suffer from the weakness of being easily guessable, like "What color are your eyes?" Others, like "Where did you go to high school?" could be answered by anyone who can look at your social media profiles. For security questions to be truly secure, it's up to users to create strong answers - or even write their own questions.
In some cases, financial institutions give customers the option to write their own security questions. When doing so, make sure that the questions have answers that are memorable, unchanging, unique and which cannot be easily found online. Examples might be "What was your phone number during third grade?" or "Where did you have your wedding reception?"
If a company doesn't offer the option for user-created questions, get creative with answers to the existing queries. Try adding special characters (as long as they're easy to remember), using multiple words or "code" words that give a unique spin to a basic question like "What's your favorite color?". The more creative the answer, the less likely it is to be guessed by identity thieves trying to gain access to your accounts.
Weak answers to security questions can leave accounts insecure. Taking the time to create unique answers adds an extra layer of safety and frustrates the efforts hackers, credit card thieves and other scammers.
Unfortunately, it isn't very hard for a person with bad intentions to gather bits of personal identifying information and create fake accounts in a victim's name. And often, the victim's behaviors could lead to the identity theft in the first place.
Pay attention to how you're handling your personal identification numbers. If you have any of the following five bad habits, you might be making yourself a target for .
• Carrying your Social Security card-Most institutions have moved away from using Social Security numbers as an identifying number. Leave your Social Security card at home, and only give out the number in limited circumstances.
Most people know which documents contain sensitive information and require special care. But do you know what to do if you lose your Social Security card, credit card or driver's license?
There are two concerns when you lose a card or document that contains sensitive information - retrieving it for your personal use and doing whatever you can to prevent identity theft from lost information. Here's a guide for getting through the loss of sensitive documents.
Social Security card
Replacing your Social Security card isn't difficult or expensive - the allows you to receive three free replacements in a year or 10 in a lifetime. Completing an application and showing a photo ID will get you a new card. (more...)
Cleaning and finances don't intuitively go hand-in-hand, but spring's a great time to address both. Since you're already doing your taxes, it's the perfect time to do a little financial house cleaning.
Here are a few financial spring cleaning tips that can also help :
• Check your credit report. Regularly monitoring your credit is perhaps the best way to protect yourself from identity theft. Inaccuracies in your report are the first clues that your identity has been stolen, which is why most identity theft services include credit monitoring.