With newer territories come newer threats. Even though Internet seems to have been with us forever, it is still in its infancy. This unchartered territory is a box full of surprises and one such is “identity theft”. If you are not Monica from FRIENDS who partied with her clone despite knowing she was being cloned (identity cloning), this article is for you.
So, what is Identity Theft?
Apart from its philosophical connotations, your “identity” is something attributed to you by certain authoritative bodies. For example, a citizen ID issued by the government of your country or say, a bank account in your name storing all your hard-earned money. All these carry your personal information which is used for various purposes like availing benefits or making transactions for a purchase. And this data can be stolen and manipulated by an unauthorized third party if you are not careful. It can be used to seize economic/commodity benefits (account takeover) or in worst cases, bring a criminal charge to your name that will cause you immense damage (criminal identity theft).
With every data of ours being digitized, the threat of cyber theft remains mammoth and hard to deal with. To give you an idea of how real and detrimental this issue is, let me present to you some statistics. According to a study conducted by Symantec in 2018, the number of data breaches in US was 1023 followed by UK (38), Canada (19), Australia (15), India (8), Ireland (8), Japan (7), Israel (6), Germany (5) and Thailand (5). A data breach can allow a hacker access to innumerable confidential information which is then used to commit cybercrime. According to a survey done by the Reserve Bank of India, cited by Times of India, shows how India witnessed a Rs 128 crore loss in card/online frauds. This is all to show you how the rampant increase in cyber theft is approaching your vicinity.
So, what should you do as a common user?
Spruce up your online habits. Cultivate a good cyber-hygiene to ensure smooth functioning of your tasks and protect yourself from harm. Some essentials to take care of are listed below.
- Passwords and Encryption.
The age-old advice of creating stronger passwords (more complicated the better) is still in vogue. With trillions of accounts to your name it sure seems like a daunting task to create different passwords for each one. But it is better to suffer a little first than regret in tons later. Create stronger, trickier passwords to help you stay afloat in the virtual world. You can check out apps like Dashlane or Lastpass to store all your passwords to one place. Also, ensure that you use platforms that offer encryption whenever you share valuable information online. WhatsApp, iMessage are some outlets that comes with strong encryption.
It is tricky to make money but effortless to lose it. If you are like me, you have your credit/debit card info saved on some shopping sites which you use pretty often. Well, clear it. In Why We Buy: The Science of Online Shopping, Paco Underhill speaks the ultimate truth, “Convenience is the driving force in modern consumption”. This force has led all of us to choose convenience over safety. Who needs all that hassle, right? This mindset could engender a loss that you aren’t prepared for. It is convenient to clear the payment info and go get that card every time to make a purchase. Thank me later.
- If it looks fishy, it probably is phishing.
Welcome to the world of the most common form of cyber fraud, “Phishing”. That tempting email craving your click or that enticing online ad or text message that promises you hell lot of money, well stay away from it. Phishing is so common it has become the part and parcel of everyday virtual life. The rule of thumb is to open mails that you know you have subscribed to, not responding to text messages claiming you have won some lottery you know you didn’t buy and just avoid online advertisements altogether. That ad on Job posting is probably a guy/gal in a remote room trying to get some juicy information from you. Don’t be naïve, let him/her starve.
- Activate account alerts.
This applies to all platforms you use (shopping, email, etc.). Register your phone number with all important and frequently used accounts so that you get notified whenever some transaction or malicious use of an account has occurred. Be wary of such alerts so that you get to freeze the account immediately after.
- Get rid of leftovers.
Do yourself a favor and get rid of all unwanted personal files by either shredding it or just burning it into ashes. You might be quick to discard it to the bin (I see you buddy!) but just do away with it. If it falls into the wrong hands, we can’t be sure how twisted your future might look. Also, delete all unnecessary accounts you have online that may carry potential information being sought by hackers. Minimalism will always go a long way.
- Keep it to yourself.
It might be really tempting to share your phone or other gadgets with your close ones which looks harmless. But there is no ruling out of the possibility of losing data in one wrong click (ouch!). Protect your device by making access to your gadgets difficult. Activate two-factor authentication, say, a combination of face-unlock and pin to secure your phone. Moreover, it is always wise to keep your personal information confidential.
Depending upon your residing country, the data protection laws might be either stronger or below par and might not be able to cover your loss. These are just few basics that you can use to create an online ritual for yourself and also your loved ones (teach them!). No matter where you come from it is always good and wise to ensure clean habits in real world as well as virtual. Better to be safe than sorry!