It has already been established that identity theft is a serious problem. To understand how to fight a problem, one must first diagnose the source of the problem. Consequently, to understand how to prevent identity theft, one must first understand the methods criminals use to steal identities. The first major category for discussion involves physical methods used to steal an identity. One such method is dumpster diving. Thieves sift through trash to find personal information (Dr. Donald Rebovich). The important lesson to learn from this is to not give thieves information to dive for. Keep your personal data personal, and thus care for it properly. This brings us into the second method: shoulder surfing. Criminals may look over one’s shoulder as they type in their PIN number, passwords, or other credentials. Thieves may even install a video camera to record the victim’s personal data (Dr. Donald Rebovich). One must actively shield their information from bystanders, even the cashier.
Also, be smart about where sensitive business is conducted. For example, managing banking websites at the public library is probably not a wise decision unless the action is absolutely necessary. Finally, the third physical method to steal information is much less obvious than the previous two. Skimming is a method that sends credit card information to an outside source when the card is swiped (Dr. Donald Rebovich). This method is much harder to defeat by common sense. After all, how can one know when their information is going to be relayed to a criminal simply via a swipe?
To make manners more pressing, Dr. Donald Rebovich issues this warning: Skimming can occur through a number of different ways, whether it is a recording device set up on an ATM machine or a salesman who secretly swipes your card onto his personal digital card reader. Resultedly, one must be cautious of the location in which they use their credit card. If the organization seems sketchy, pay with cash. Try to withdraw money directly from the bank versus using an ATM as the middle man. In the world today, one must exercise caution even when he feels it to be unnecessary. To further this point, one must exercise caution on the web and their computer, not just in real life.
Cybercriminals have an extensive amount of ways they attempt to steal personal data, passwords and credit cards. To explain or identify all of them would be impossible, or at the very least would take way to much time. After all, new ways of attacking computers constantly arise. Many methods cyber security personnel may not even know yet. However, for the common person it isn’t necessary to know all the ways a criminal may try to attack systems or compromise information, but merely some of the most common ways. This enables one to be aware and cautious of threats while they are surfing the web and even checking their email. Phishing attacks affect many people, and can occur in many different forms.
The cybercriminals will use an infected website or send an email with the purpose of either harvesting personal data or corrupting the device with some form of a virus (Homeland Security Writers). Beware, though, these emails may not immediately raise red flags. The email they send can look like it is from an authentic financial institution, e-commerce site, government agency, or any other service or business (Homeland Security Writers). One must make a practice of evaluating emails.
Misspelled words, sketchy email addresses, and an urgency for the consumer to immediately respond with a password or banking information should raise a red flag. Never click the links in emails out of curiosity. Another major attack, pharming, occurs when a victim is rerouted to a fake website meant to imitate a legitimate website. The individual then enters their sensitive information, which they are kindly supplying to the hacker behind the fake website (Dr. Donald Rebovich). One way to guard against this type of attack is to always check the URL before entering sensitive information on a website. The URL should start with https and not http. Also make for sure that the URL is the actual domain of the site. A hacker may change the URL on a spoofed website to look like the URL on a legitimate website. For example, they may substitute the letter o’ with the number zero, or the may add something legitimate sounding to the end of the website’s name. The third attack for discussion, the man-in-the-middle attack involves criminally intercepting communication between two parties and recording the information without the two parties ever knowing about it (Dr. Donald Rebovich).
Be very cautious of websites even when personal information is not being entered. Sketchy websites and clicking links could be the route a virus is installed in one’s system. Also, use a legitimate antivirus software (do research) and make sure the antivirus is kept up-to date. Finally, the data breach of a company can affect employees and customers (Regents of the University of California Writers). Hackers may target employees in a phishing attack known as spear phishing, consequently, scrutiny toward work emails is necessary to help protect one’s company (Dr. Donald Rebovich). Analyze, using the previously mentioned tips, even the work emails received. Hackers will attempt to compromise the entire company by gaining an individual employees’ login credentials (Dr. Donald Rebovich). Once a criminal has stolen personal information or an identity, they can cause much havoc and loss.
Just as thieves use many methods to steal information, they use information in a variety of harmful ways. Probably one of the biggest nightmares occurs when the thief spends the victim’s money without the victim knowing for a period of time. The criminal may be able to change the victim’s billing address, so the victim would be unaware of the bills from the criminal’s purchases (Consumer Response Center Writers). The problem would keep snowballing until the victim finally found out. Imagine the victim attempting to pay for groceries, and then being informed there are insufficient funds in his account. It would be a nightmare to fix. The Consumer Response Center Writers, specifically speaking of bank and finance fraud, warn consumers about identity thieves: They may open a bank account in your name and write bad checks.
They may authorize electronic transfers in your name from your accounts, and drain your savings. They may take out a loan in your name. The thief may also use the victim’s information on government documents and official ID cards; the thief can use thier picture but associate the card with the victim’s name (Consumer Response Center Writers). If this occurred, the victim could look at fault for basically anything the criminal wanted to do. The possibilities and areas of life this could affect are practically endless. Any time suspicious activity is suspected, even accounts that seem minor, it would be very wise to investigate the suspicious activity.
Hackers may target a victim’s secondary accounts, which have no credit card information but have lower levels of security, to gain valuable information about a victim they can use to then hack a much higher-profile, higher-security account. For example, they may hack a fitness account to acquire information they can use to hack a bank account. One more point worth noting is that some cyber criminals do not want the victim’s information for themselves. So why would a hacker go through the effort of hacking a victim if they weren’t planning on using the victim’s information for their own fraudulous manners? It is because these cybercriminals sell their victim’s credit card numbers and identities to other criminals via the dark web (Regents of the University of California Writers). The methods used to steal information, and the scary ways criminals use that information have been covered, so now one must know how to prevent identity theft as best they can.
Although to some extent identity theft is out of the victim’s control, to a major extent identity theft can be prevented. As previously implied, awareness is vitally important to prevention. Cautiousness in computer usage must be applied to prevent online identity theft. This cautiousness must extend even to Wi-Fi networks. Free public Wi-Fi (public Wi-Fi without a password) should never be used when entering sensitive information on the internet (Regents of the University of California Writers). Ideally, these Wi-Fi networks should never be used, for they lack security.
Wi-Fi security matters in the home as well, especially for individuals who live in town. Regents of the University of California Writers warn us to make sure to encrypt and password protect your Wi-Fi at home. Creating stronger authentication for accounts, namely enabling two-factor authentication, wards off many attempts at compromising one’s account. Two-factor authentication means that when an individual attempts to sign into their account, they must enter both their password and some other means of identification, usually a PIN number sent to a previously indicated device in their possession (Homeland Security Writers). Many major platforms, including Apple, Facebook, and Google, offer two-factor authentication. One would be wise to enable two-factor authentication on all the platforms and websites they use that offer this feature.
Homeland Security Writers comfort us with this truth about two-factor authentication: Even if a cybercriminal is trying to access your account and has captured your password, they still cannot get account access without the second component, if you have instituted stronger authentication. Another way to have stronger authentication is to use a stronger password. Besides making a password longer, add numbers and symbols, for this makes cracking a password much more difficult and time consuming. To prevent identity theft, monitoring activity on credit reports and bank accounts is very important (Regents of the University of California Writers). Being aware of transactions, and potentially of unwarranted transactions made by an individual other than yourself, can help one to notice identity theft in its first stages before more harm occurs.
While monitoring accounts, it is possible one will realize they have been a victim of identity theft. If this unfortunate situation occurs, take action. First, file a police report and contact any organization or business that was touched by the theft (Regents of the University of California Writers). Talk to customer support and hopefully the situation will be sorted out and the organization will be able to reverse the actions already taken by the criminal. Second, obtain credit reports and analyze them for fraudulent activity. If so, file a report with the credit bureaus (Regents of the University of California Writers).
Third, it would be wise to change the passwords to your accounts. While doing so, remember to create secure passwords and consider enabling two-factor authentication if available. Finally, keep monitoring your credits and accounts (Regents of the University of California Writers). It is important to stay on top of the situation. Do not assume that the issue is over, keep monitoring. One’s identity stays their identity for life whether it is stolen or not. The Regents of the University of California Writers put the warning like this: Once identity thieves have your personal information, they have it forever.
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