To keep yourself safe from financial identity theft you need to be aware of how this theft occurs and what it means to you. Financial identity theft is when a thief uses the identifying details of someone else to commit fraud and this fraud is damaging to the victim’s finances. In some extreme cases the imposter will completely take over a victim’s identity.
Often identity theft involves the fraud of a financial institution such as a mortgage lender, a credit card company or a bank. Financial institutions are attractive to would-be thieves because they hold and distribute large sums of money.
By using the victim’s personal details the thief may open a credit card, charge up items and never pay the bill. They may open bank accounts, borrow for the purchase of property and live the high life on someone else’s good name. They don’t tend to make any payments and the true identity is left with debt and a damaged reputation. And it is not unknown for thieves to actually find employment using the victim’s name and credentials.
‘First impression is the last impression’ – this adage has been told to you since you were a child. This adage is religiously being followed by hiring managers, companies and well, your friends too. Online identity is like you are living in a house only with glass doors. Your whole life activities are like an open book. Having an online profile is certainly beneficial as it helps you to establish contacts with other people. For companies, it helps them connect with customers, suppliers and also helps them to know intricate details about competitors. Basically these social websites create a whole new world.
But with certain advantages, there are disadvantages associated with it. There is always a fear of hackers who can hack your profile and alter it in a negative way or worse, steal it. Even for companies, hackers pose a risk as they can easily get vital information about the company like trade secrets or financial information.
Managing Your Future
As personal branding can make or break your identity, it’s of vital importance to regularly monitor your profile and avoid embarrassments. Following are some techniques which can prove to be beneficial in managing the online profile:
Search Your Identity
After you have created your profile, it’s important to find out about yourself with the help of various search engines. This will give you an idea about your reputation and will serve as a reminder in the event of negative publicity. According to a business magazine, around 70% of the recruiters search the applicant’s profile and 30% eliminate an applicant because of some inappropriate findings in the person’s profile. Many search engines provide you personalized services like alerting you if your name crops up in something inappropriate. Take control of your profile page by activating privacy settings on photos, friends list and messages. For a more professional approach, use professional websites which boost your image in front of recruiters.
Erase the Negative Content
As ‘word of mouth’ is important in the advertising world, similarly written words about you in your friends blogs, social websites serve as an alert call which you should not ignore. If you find certain irrelevant photos or conversations, try to delete them or tell your friends to remove it. Also, it’s advisable that you keep yourself away from petty criminal activities as these hamper your image.
While you are busy chatting away to glory, someone will certainly be scrutinizing your profile and your views. So try to keep your language in check. Do not appear as a fanatic for certain issues. Like after 9/11, many people posted hate messages on their profile, this certainly didn’t work in their favor. Also, do not involve yourself in writing verbal abuses. Always remind yourself that Internet is such a window through which anyone can easily peek into your world.
While answering questions in the exam paper, we were told to write answers to the point. The same norm is being followed by the professional websites too. If a recruiter is searching for you, he/she wants recent and accurate information about your professional achievements rather than some old outdated information. So always update your profile and try maintaining relevant information which will help in boosting your career graph in a positive direction.
Close Extra Accounts
Over a period of time, we all tend to open several accounts in many social networking sites which later on lie idle. These accounts are targeted by hackers to steal your valuable information which can put you in a tight spot. So for keeping your profile and information safe, try to close those accounts in which your visits are limited.
In the end, safeguarding your information is a key to preserve your future. In this Internet age, where companies as well as people are marketing themselves to their prospective clients, one thing sure has changed, the demarcation between professional and personal life has been absolved. As Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems has rightly put it, “You already have zero privacy. Get over it.”
Here are some tips on things you can do (or not do) to guard your personal financial information, prevent identity theft, and protect your good credit rating.
- Always take your receipts with you after you’ve made a purchase. Leaving the receipt at the ATM or gas station is an open invitation for identity thieves.
- Maintain good files and records of your financial transactions. Know what you’ve purchased, when, and from whom. Store your old account statements in a safe place. And be sure to shred any papers with personal information before you throw it away.
- The FBI recently reported that a third of identity theft victims admitted the thief was a co-worker or friend. Be careful not to leave personal information out in the open on your desk or in your home office. And don’t ask anyone else to hold your personal papers for you. In this case, most of the identity theft suspects were well aware of their victim’s habits and lifestyle.
- Carefully guard your User IDs and passwords for online accounts. When you create them, don’t go for the easy-to-remember. People who know you may be able to guess simple, straightforward user IDs and passwords. And don’t write your passwords down or keep them where someone can get to them. If you store them electronically, make sure the files are protected.
- Get and keep regular copies of your credit reports and account statements. Use one or all of the three major agencies (Experian, TransUnion, or Equifax) to get your credit report. Don’t depend on less reputable reporting agencies.
- Opt out of mailing lists whenever you can, and ask telemarketers to “take your name off their list.” By law, they can’t call you again for a year. If you have any doubts, check with your bank and credit accounts to find out what they do with your personal information and what you need to do to better protect it.
- Don’t have printed or write your social security number on your checks. Might as well send it up a flag. Some states still use social security numbers for drivers licenses, but they are changing. Check with your DMV to see if you can have your drivers license changed to remove your social security number.
- Don’t keep a written list of your bank or other account numbers where they might be seen by someone else. Keep lists of this type of information under lock and key.
- Do not respond to and delete any e-mails that ask for an account number or other personal information. Stop internet and snail-mail credit card offers. Install firewall and anti-spyware on your computer for additional protection. If your computer has the feature, register your fingerprint as an additional safety feature.
- Purchase new checks from the bank, not a discount service. And rather than having your full name printed on the checks, use your initial.
- Do not carry PINs in your wallet or purse, and never give them out over the phone.
What If I’m Already a Victim?
If you think someone else is using your identity or personal financial information inappropriately, contact the nearest office of the U.S. Department of Justice. Contact your creditors to alert them to the fraud. Also inform your bank of the activity and secure their agreement to help protect your information. You may want to revisit the names of people authorized to access your personal financial information and limit it to essential parties only. Find out as much as you can about the accounts, purchases, and applications the identity thief has made using your name. Then contact those companies directly and immediately to make sure they close the accounts and notify law enforcement when they become aware of any additional transactions.
Immediately notify the credit reporting agency and creditors if you see suspicious activity or if you find errors like a closed account that shows as open or a paid-off balance that appears to be outstanding. You may have to provide documentation to support corrections, and you may have to make the same contact several times to assure the correction is made. But be persistent. Your credit report is a direct reflection of your financial dealings. Creditors and credit report agencies are obligated to report correct information.