Identity theft has been at the top of the Federal Trade Commission’s Top Consumer Complaints list for 15 years in a row.
According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, roughly half of American adults (110 million) had their personal information compromised by cybercriminals in 2015. Two-thirds of Americans (65 percent) who use the Internet received at least one online scam offer during 2013.
The Department of Homeland Security’s Identity Theft and Internet Scam Tip Card offers practical advice about how to keep your online information protected. Here are some steps consumers can take to avoid becoming victims of identity theft or online scams:
- When in doubt, throw it out.
Links in email, tweets, posts, and online advertising are often the way cybercriminals compromise your computer. If it looks suspicious, even if you know the source, it’s best to delete it. You also have the option, if appropriate, to mark it as “junk email” so you no longer receive emails from this sender.
Be wary of communications that implore you to act immediately, offer something that sounds too good to be true, or ask for personal information.
- Make passwords long and strong.
Create a password with eight characters or more that uses a combination of numbers, letters, and symbols.
- Guard your personal information.
Keep Social Security numbers, account numbers, and passwords private, as well as specific information about yourself.
- Use stronger authentication.
Using stronger authentication requires that you use your password in conjunction with an additional piece of information, such as a PIN sent to your mobile device, to verify identity. 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. Visit www.lockdownyourlogin.com for more information.
- Unique account, unique password.
Create unique passwords for each account. Keeping separate passwords for every account helps thwart cybercriminals.
In addition to these tips, the department recommends https://identitytheft.gov/ as a resource for victims of identity theft. The site helps guide victims through the process of remedying issues that have arisen from identity theft.
People are sharing more sensitive personal information about themselves online than ever before. No matter where you are, you can bank and shop online, control your TVs, homes, and cars from your smartphones. This convenience comes with an increased risk of identity theft and Internet scams. Every time you connect to the Internet – at home, at school, at work, or on our mobile devices – you’re making decisions that affect your cybersecurity.
Protect yourself by taking precautions to protect yourself from online fraud:
- Avoid accessing your personal or bank accounts from a public computer or public Wi-Fi network, such as the public library. Not only can cybercriminals potentially gain access to your accounts through public Wi-Fi, but strangers can easily shoulder surf and see the sensitive information on your computer or mobile device screen.
- Don’t reveal personally identifiable information such as your bank account number, Social Security number, or date of birth to unknown sources.
- When paying a bill online or making an online donation, be sure that you type the website URL into your browser instead of clicking on a link or cutting and pasting it.
- Make sure the website address starts with “https”; the “s” stands for secure.
- Look for the padlock icon at the bottom of your browser that indicates the site uses encryption.
- Type new website URLs directly into the address bar instead of clicking on links or cutting and pasting the address from an email.
- Find out who is providing the information and check that you are visiting legitimate websites when you go online. Look for websites ending in .edu (for education) or .gov (for government) for legitimate medical information.
If you discover you’ve become a victim of cybercrime, notify your local authorities to file a complaint. Keep and record all evidence of the incident and its suspected source. The list below outlines the government organizations that you can file a complaint with if you are a victim of cybercrime.
The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) free, one-stop resource, www.IdentityTheft.gov can help individuals report and recover from identity theft. Report fraud to the FTC at ftc.gov/OnGuardOnline or www.ftc.gov/complaint
Report computer or network vulnerabilities to the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) via the hotline: 1-888-282-0870 or www.us-cert.gov. Forward phishing emails or websites to US-CERT at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are a victim of online crime, file a complaint with the Internet Crime Compliant Center (IC3) at http://www.IC3.gov.
If you believe someone is using your Social Security number, contact the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) fraud hotline at 1-800-269-0271.