While we fret over the possibility of having our personal information stolen online, the truth is we’re more likely to have our identities filched offline. Online identity theft methods constituted only 12 percent of fraud in cases where the victims knew how their identity was stolen, according to the “2008 Identity Fraud Survey Report” by Javelin Strategy & Research. The majority of cases of identity theft (79 percent) took place through traditional methods, such as stolen or lost wallets, checkbooks, credit cards, mail tampering, or “shoulder surfing”—where the thief looks over the shoulder of the victim at an ATM or cash register. Seventeen percent of the victims reported “friendly thefts”—those perpetrated by friends, family, or in-home employees.
Here are some tactics Javelin recommends for safeguarding your personal information and preventing identity theft:
• Password protect all your digital devices, including computers, PDAs, and mobile phones.
• Choose passwords and PINs that can’t be easily guessed.
• Shred all documents that have personal information on them before disposing of them.
• Use a locked mailbox for incoming and outgoing mail.
• Monitor your online accounts frequently.
• Avoid mailing checks to pay bills or deposit funds. Move your financial transactions online.
• Review your credit information no less than once per year. To receive your free annual report from one or all of the national credit agencies, visit www.annualcreditreport.com or call 877.322.8228. Other methods of accessing your reports may charge a fee.
• Never provide personal information to anyone unless you initiated the contact.
• Install and regularly update firewall, antispyware, antivirus, and browser security software.
• When shopping online, check that you are using a reputable firm.
• Reduce access to your personal information wherever possible. Be aware of your surroundings when you conduct transactions in public.