Simple awareness can be a key to protecting your identity from thieves.

“It’s easy stuff like: have an antivirus on your computer, keep a close eye on your bank account, be careful where you’re using your cards,” Kurt Gocken, a network administrator for Simpson College and expert on email and internet scams.

Gocken said phishing emails and ransomware are common tools for the identity thief community.

Identity thieves send an email with a link for the receiver to click. When the receiver clicks, the ransomware executes code that encrypts the data on his or her hard drive. In order to unencrypt the data, the receiver has to pay the thief a sum of money.

“One of the most popular ones is they open up domain names and change it to corn because it looks like com,” he said. So they’ll mimic Wells Fargo’s website but they’ll make it so you’re going somewhere else. But it’s easy to mistake the URL.”

Gocken said another way to protect yourself is creating strong passwords and changing them often. “A more secure password would be longer, non-dictionary words. Something to do with names, usually is a good one,” he said.

The length of the password correlates with the strength, because each character added increases the number of possibilities the password could be. Gocken doesn’t recommend writing the passwords down, as someone can easily find them.

Susan Kerr, a consumer protection investigator with the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, warned against data breaches, said a person can protect a personal identity by putting a security freeze on credit reports from credit bureaus, notably Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

Compiled by Ashley Smith/IowaWatch

The Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection tells consumers a credit freeze lets you restrict access to your credit report. Most creditors need to see your credit report before approving a new account. Without your approval, the identity thief won’t be able to take credit out in your name.

According to the U.S. Electronic Fund Transfer Act and Fair Credit Billing Act, identity theft victims have 60 days to report unauthorized transactions on their debit or credit card to the bank.

Rhonda Vry-Bills, senior director at IDShield, an Oklahoma-based international identity theft agency, said IDShield monitors each customer’s driver’s license, medical identity card, email account, passport, Social Security number, bank accounts and other information.

“Most people that are signing up for this membership are people that have already been affected by it. Typically more people are reactive,” Vry-Bills said.

Cybersecurity experts also offered these simple ways to protect yourself:

  • Never carry your Social Security number or Medicare card in your wallet.
  • Make a copy of all of your critical personal documents in case they are stolen.
  • If someone is asking for your Social Security number, ask why. Never give it unless it’s necessary.
  • Don’t put any important information in your phone because, if someone steals it, that person also will have that information.

If you are a victim of identity theft:

  1. File a report with your local law enforcement agency and get a copy of the report.
  2. Call one of the three national credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian and Trans Union) to put a 90-day initial security alert on your credit reports. When you call one bureau, they will share the initial security alert with the others.
  3. To request an extended fraud alert, complete an ID Theft Affidavit, which can be found on the Iowa government’s website. This fraud alert will remain in effect for seven years.

The Iowa Attorney General’s Office sends out a monthly newsletter focused on consumer protection with tips on how to further protect yourself from identity theft and other issues. Subscribe to the Consumer Focus here.

Source: Iowa Attorney General’s Office


This IowaWatch story was republished by The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, IA) under IowaWatch’s mission of sharing stories with media partners.

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