Perhaps the most valuable piece of currency on the Internet today is personal information. Just as in real life, it needs to be guarded and protected from falling into the wrong hands. Scammers can use nefariously-obtained personal info to open credit card accounts, purchase expensive items and more. And although it’s usually a briefly gratifying experience for the criminal, it can lead to years and years of grief and confusion for the victim. Here are 10 ways to protect yourself from identity theft and keep your online privacy safe:
Identity Theft and Online Safety Tips
– Services like Lifelock, Identity Guard or Trusted ID other protection services may be worth the investment for your family if this is something you are particularly worried about. For as little as $10 a month, these services will keep an eye out for your personal information and in some cases even monitor your credit reports for you.
– At least once a year, it’s good to check up on your credit reports for you and all members of your family. This can be done by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com. According to the Federal Trade Commission, this is the only site authorized to provide you with the free credit report you’re entitled to by law. If you find something wrong, you’ll not only want to contact the credit companies directly, but also the proper authorities. All this information can found at www.ftc.gov.
– The FBI also recently warned against a surprising danger of posting images online: the use of geolocation tags embedded in the image that can be accessed and show exactly where on earth the picture was taken. This could be dangerous because you could be unwittingly letting others know where you live and work via these photos you are posting online. We recommend disabling all “Location Services” on your family’s smartphones, which can easily be done on the Settings menu of most devices.
– Although this may seem obvious, do what you can to protect your social security number. Don’t be afraid to ask if it’s really necessary on any form that’s asking for it. And if it is, make sure you’re comfortable knowing that the place you’re turning it over to, be it a school or a doctor’s office, will adequately protect it. The last four digits of the number, when combined with the birthdate and place of birth, can be used to generate the complete nine-digit social security number.
– Practice safe computing habits and password guarding, just as you guard your ATM code when using an ATM machine. If you’re using a computer on a public network, refrain if possible from checking sites that require login information, and especially avoid doing activities such as online banking.
– If you or someone in your family starts getting junk mail or credit card applications out of nowhere, that may be a sign that someone is using their identity. This is an especially important warning flag if it’s a young kid who starts to receive this information.
– Think twice before sharing your child’s name online or in public. Whether it’s on your Facebook and Twitter page or on stickers you place on your car, it’s possible that the wrong person can see this information and use this information to steal their identity.
– It’s important to distinguish that you’re only checking to see if a report exists when you contact the credit companies to see if you have one for your children. Unless they’ve been a victim of identity theft, they shouldn’t have one, and ordering one could cause the credit bureaus to open on in their name, which is unnecessary.
– Credit service Equifax recently launched a family plan that keeps tabs on the identities of two adults and up to four children, but it comes with a potentially steep price tag: $29.95 a month. For that price parents can get e-mail or text message whenever someone tries to use any of the family’s IDs.
– The first step if you think you are a victim of identity theft is to place a fraud alert with one of the credit companies. Once you contact them, verify that they will contact the other two credit bureaus about the fraud alert as well. You can contact any of the three:
In addition to taking steps to close any fraudulent accounts you find about, you’ll also need to file an Identity Theft Report and a Police Report to begin the process of straightening the identity theft out. For starters, you can download and fill out the FTC Affidavit at www.ftc.gov/complaint. Once you’ve done that, you can then take that form to your local police department and use it to fill out a police report.
After that, you can call the credit companies and request an extended fraud alert, which will stay in effect for seven years.
For more tips like this, make sure to check out this helpful guide from the FTC which contains checklists and step-by-step instructions for what to do if you’ve been a victim of identity theft: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/idtheft/idt04.pdf
The FTC also offers a comprehensive site discussing many aspects of identity theft, including tips for how to avoid identity theft http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/
Have you Googled yourself lately? It’s entirely possible you’re not doing it often enough, as a 2010 stat showed that less than 50% of folks did regularly. But chances are you’ve conducted an online search on someone else. Whether it’s a prospective employee, someone you just met or a potential business partner, looking up information on the Internet is one of the first steps many people take when trying to learn more about others.
It’s imperative you stay on top of your digital image and learn how to protect your online reputation. According to a recent infographic from KBSD Digital Marketing, 78% of recruiters check search engines on potential employees, and half of recruiters and HR professionals refer to personal websites when deciding whether or not to hire you. They’re looking at photos, trying to find unflattering or incriminating information.
So while it’s simple to suggest not to ever put any content out there that may offend others, the reality is that many of use enjoy and utilize social networks because people are sharing personal information about their thoughts and happenings. Here are some basic tips to help you control your image while still maintaining a positive online presence, thereby ultimately protecting your online reputation:
Always Consider Your Online Footprint: Consider that everything you post or any picture that appears of you online is available for the broad public. There are many who refuse to ever have a photo taken of them holding an alcoholic drink for example. Although you can lock down Facebook privacy settings, if you’re on Twitter, be aware that anything you tweet is easily searchable, so be leery of taking any potentially controversially viewpoints or stands.
Focus on Positive Communications: Take steps to create your own brand by highlighting activities and thought leadership in areas you want to be associated with. If you want people to see you as someone who appreciates the arts, ask questions about or post information from art gallery openings or symphony concerts. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can change others’ perceptions of you by focusing your observations and sharing on specific areas of interest.
Control Your Information: Take advantage of privacy settings wherever you can. Don’t trust Facebook, Google or any other social network or photo sharing service to have default settings exactly how you want them. If you will be posting information or sharing photos that you would never want the public at large or future employers to see, make sure to restrict access to your accounts and content.
Know What’s Out There: Google yourself, check what’s going on. Pretend you are someone who knows nothing about you and see what kind of info it leads to. See what’s on the first few pages of search results, make sure to see what images are out there associated with a search for your name. And if you’re an individual or a small business who finds information online that you’d rather wasn’t there, consider using one of these services to help manage your online reputation:
Reputation.com offer free scans to help you find information online, with an option to subscribe for $100 a year to help them keep your reputation clean. For those that do have information they want to remove, prices to get that info removed or changed from Reputation.com will enter the thousands of dollars range, with it being even more expensive if you have a common name.
BrandYourself helps make entries you want to highlight more visible in search results than those you may want removed. As an example, the company shows how you can boost visibility for your LinkedIn and Facebook profiles (with content you control) to appear before potentially negative information, such as divorce settlement records. Brand Yourself attempts to make the process much simpler and user-based than Reputation.com, offering “do-it-yourself” tips and free profiling and alerts. The free version of the platform will help optimize up to three links and track the first page of Google search results for your name. For $10 per month, you can boost to unlimited links and track the first 10 pages of results.
Integrity Defenders helps individuals or businesses remove negative comments or content from the first page of search results of the most popular search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo1 for a little more than $600, and even offers to push the content off the first and second pages for twice that price.
In October 2010 TRUSTe announced the results of a nationwide survey of both parents and their teens investigating their privacy habits and preferences on social networks. What they found was that, for the most part, “the kids are alright,” noting a majority of teens use privacy controls on social networks and that most parents actively monitor their teen’s privacy. But there’s still room for improvement, with more than 2/3rds of teens admitting they’d accepted a Facebook friend request from someone they didn’t know, and nearly 1 in 10 teens admitting to accepting all friend requests they receive, pointing to the need for more education around kids and social networks.
Unfortunately, examples of what NOT to do on social networks seem all too common. Whether it’s posting inappropriate videos, an abundance of pictures with alcohol prominently involved, or generally distasteful updates, employers and schools are keeping an eye on what the employees and students are doing, and disciplining those who act inappropriately. And there are also some potentially grave and dangerous consequences to misuse and abuse of social networks. Consider the case of Tyler Clementi, a homosexual teen who committed suicide after his roommate posted videos of his sexual encounters on Twitter.
But don’t be scared by these instances. Social networks are now an important part of your child’s development. A 2011 clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics entitled “The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents and Families” finds that a large part of this generation’s social and emotional development is occurring while using social networks. The report lists a number of benefits for kids from being connected, such as better engagement with friends, family and community; enhanced learning opportunities via collaboration; connections with like-minded teens; and enhancement of creativity. Tellingly, the study also found that 22 percent of teenagers log onto their favorite social media sites more than 10 times a day.
Naturally, kids need to be empowered to realize that they can shape their own image on these social networks, and use these services in positive ways.
Once they’re using social networks, the platform can serve as an amplifier for the information your kids decide to share or interact with. Facebook spokesperson Marian Heath says that she hears from people all the time that Facebook is a place where there kids can get in trouble. But she urges parents and teens to turn that around, because it doesn’t have to be that way.
“You can build your own image,” Heath says. “Post the good things you’re doing and share your interests. Have conversations online so folks can find out what’s interesting to you. Ask friends about books you’re reading, plays you’re interested in.” Instead of focusing on the negative or gossipy aspects, use the service to shape your online image how you want to.
Tell your teens they don’t need to be afraid to connect with you. Remind them that you don’t want to interfere with or embarrass them, you just want to make sure they’re making good choices, just like in real life. And even though kids may want to “hide” things you’re posting from parents, the reality is that in today’s world once information is made available, it’s out there forever. So forcing kids to have a confirming thought of “do I want my mom to see this?” prior to anything they post actually isn’t a bad thing.
Although no one knows exactly what the future holds, chances are your kids will be applying to colleges after high school, and soon after that entering the work force. In the future, those making life-changing decisions about your child’s life are sure to examine their social media profiles in addition to any other information they’ve made public. So remind kids that the things they post now can and likely will be used against them, even if it’s five or ten years down the line.