Identity theft & online fraud: Keys to protect your family

No matter what level of wealth you’ve achieved, no asset you own is as valuable as your good name and reputation. For successful people in particular, knowing that your name denotes trustworthiness and respect is important for both personal and business reasons. Unfortunately, no matter how careful you are, external factors can threaten the reputation you’ve spent so much time building.

Over the past several years, internet-based crimes have steadily increased, according to statistics compiled by the Internet Crime Complaint Center and the FBI. In 2011, the last year for which data was available, the center received over 300,000 complaints―nearly 29,000 of them related to identity theft, in addition to thousands of more mundane complaints such as web-based credit card fraud or theft.

Such crimes are costly―the estimated loss was over $485 million. While stereotypes may have you believe that senior citizens are most often victimized by these kinds of crimes, that’s not the case. In fact, Baby Boomers and their slightly younger peers make up the largest group targeted for identity theft and similar crimes―primarily because they are the people spending the most time online. Such events can create huge misunderstandings that you need to spend hours clearing up and damage your credit rating.

Many people assume they could never be fooled by the kind of obvious scam attempts they see in their spam folder. And that’s probably true. But those are the easiest to spot. More sophisticated crooks do indeed manage to get vital data from successful professionals every day―often capitalizing on a moment’s inattention when the target’s guard is down. The following checklist provides key tips to ensure your own information doesn’t fall into the wrong hands via identity theft or other online fraud schemes:

  • Check that online shopping carts or other pages that require credit card numbers or other sensitive data are encrypted. They’ll start with https:// instead of the http:// you usually see.
  • Don’t supply sensitive information through links that are in unsolicited emails―even from companies with which you do business. Sophisticated schemes have been known to mimic the logo and designs of large, respected companies in order to lull customers into thinking the messages are legitimate. If you want to respond to an online offer from a company you trust, you should be able to find the promotion on their corporate site.
  • When using your laptop or mobile devices on the road, be wary of public wi-fi networks. It’s relatively easy for the wrong people to access your data if you use only the basic security controls. A better way: use closed networks that require a password and download additional software so you have enhanced protection.
  • Check the URLs of links in corporate emails. Hovering over the link will show the URL you’re being directed to. If it looks off, don’t click. For example, if an American bank sends an email with a link that doesn’t end in “.com” or if the domain is registered in a foreign country, that’s a red flag.
  • Think twice before adding unfamiliar apps and followers on social media sites, playing social games that require sharing personal info or sharing links that seem designed to go viral. Often these seemingly innocuous links can create havoc by exposing you to malware or accessing data you thought was private.
  • Remind children especially to be wary of what they share online. They often don’t fully appreciate the potential downsides of sharing personal information, or how other people can misuse it.
  • Securely dispose of all documents―paper or digital―that contain personal or financial data. Paper account statements or legal documents should be shredded. Digital files that are merely deleted can be easily recovered if you don’t use specialized software to overwrite part of the hard drive. You should also check mobile devices, thumb drives and similar items for potentially sensitive files. If you employ household staff who have access to your personal information as part of their duties, they should be made aware of your preferred disposal methods. And before allowing access in the first place, conduct a background check to ensure your staff are who they say they are.
  • Keep online passwords in a safe place, and avoid using obvious components like birthdates, children's names, spouse’s name, your zip code, etc. Here are a few hints on creating a “strong” password:*
    • Use at least six characters; more than eight characters is even better
    • Use a mix of upper- and lowercase letters
    • Include some unique symbols, like $%@!
    • Change passwords on a regular schedule (i.e., when you turn the clocks forward and back, anniversary date, etc.)
    • Create a different for every device, computer, website, app, etc.


Last updated: Friday, April 28, 2017

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