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Have you ever lost your wallet? Have you ever logged onto your bank account on a computer that wasn’t yours? Have you ever thrown away receipts without shredding them? It’s OK to say yes; I know I certainly can admit to having done all the above things more than once in my life. When you really think about it, it’s a miracle that I haven’t had my identify stolen yet — or at least not that I know of.

I’ve spent my entire life assuming I was cautious when it came to protecting my identity. I mean it’s not as if I have a tattoo with my Social Security Number, birth date, and mom’s maiden name on my left arm. However, after spending a little time with Walter Petruska and Nick Recchia of the ITS Security Services department, I learned some things that shocked me about common ways skilled Identity thieves use to steal personal information :

  1. Dumpster Diving. They rummage through trash looking for bills and other papers with personal information. The best way to avoid this is to shred anything containing personal information or to dump it in a confidential locked bin found in the res halls at the end of each semester.
  2. Skimming. They steal credit/debit cards number by using a special storage device when processing your card. Be cautious of where you use your credit and debit cards. Protect your Social Security number; don’t carry the card in your wallet or write in on a check. Only give it out when absolutely necessary or ask to use another identifier.
  3. Phishing. They pretend to be financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information. Never click on links sent in unsolicited e-mails; instead, type in a web address you know. Use firewalls, anti-virus software to protect your computer, and keep them up-to-date.
  4. Changing your Address. They divert your billing statements to another location by completing a “change of address” form.
  5. “Old-Fashioned” Stealing. They steal wallets and purses; mail, including bank and credit card statements; pre-approved credit offers; and new check or tax information. They steal personnel records from their employers, or bribe employees who have access. Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you know who you are dealing with. Keep your personal information in a secure place at home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help, or are having work done in your house.
  6. Hacking into your Computer. There are tons of way ID thieves steal information from your computer or online information. Don’t use obvious passwords like your birth date, mother’s maiden name, or the last four digits of your Social Security number. Also, don’t leave your laptop sitting around if you’re not right next to it and avoid using a public or friend’s computer to do personal business like banking.  Please see the Simple Tips to Avoid a Computer Security Nightmare blog posting in order to learn more on cyber security.

I guess subconsciously I always knew identity thieves had tricks to steal my personal information far beyond anything I could imagine, but I’ve enjoyed living in my “ignorance is bliss” world. With an increase in technology comes an increase in scams and personally, I can’t afford to spend thousands of dollars trying to get my identity back. It’s time for me to start living a little more cautiously and I hope you will consider it, too.

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