Computer Identity Theft

Computer Identity Theft Is a Very Serious Problem

Computers are fun and useful, but they also can make identity theft easier. Your personal PC is most likely not as secure as you may think. As a result, you may be open and vulnerable to computer identity theft. When you encounter computer identity theft, it may be intrusive enough that you will want to get rid of your computer and go back to pen and paper!

How am I at Risk?

Every time you buy stuff online, do your banking/pay bills over the Internet, check in with your office by e-mail, or just surf the Web for fun, you open many gateways to the personal information on your computer. You may also be in for costly computer repairs and lost data, due to damaging computer viruses that can invade your computer through e-mail connections.

Computer identity theft violates your personal information! For example, identity thieves can gather your credit card information, social security number, bank information, and much more.

What Can I Do to Minimize My Risk?

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect your computer, your information and your peace of mind from computer criminals.

Here are some tips to help you from the security experts at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC):

  • Make sure your passwords have both letters and numbers, and are at least eight characters long. Avoid common words: some hackers use programs that can try every word in the dictionary. Don't use your personal information, your login name or adjacent keys on the keyboard as passwords-and don't share your passwords online or over the phone. Password manager software tools can help, as long as they encrypt your passwords.
  • Protect yourself from viruses by installing anti-virus software and updating it regularly. The best software recognizes old and new viruses and update automatically.
  • Prevent unauthorized access to your computer through firewall software or hardware, especially if you are a high-speed user. A properly configured firewall makes it tougher for hackers to locate your computer.
  • Firewalls are also designed to prevent hackers from getting into your programs and files. Some recently released operating system software and some hardware devices come with a built-in firewall. Some firewalls block outgoing information as well as incoming files. That stops hackers from planting programs - called spyware - that cause your computer to send out your personal information without your approval.
  • Don't open a file attached to an e-mail unless you are expecting it or know what it contains. If you send an attachment, type a message explaining what it is. Never forward any e-mail warning about a new virus. It may be a hoax and could be used to spread a virus.
  • When something bad happens - you think you've been hacked or infected by a virus - e-mail a report of the incident to your Internet provider and the hacker's Internet provider, if you can tell what it is, as well as your software vendor.

What are the Consequences of Computer Identity Theft?

Here is what the FTC had to say:

Once identity thieves have your personal information, they may:

  • Go on spending sprees using your credit and debit card account numbers to buy "big-ticket" items like computers that they can easily sell.
  • Open a new credit card account, using your name, date of birth and SSN. When they don't pay the bills, the delinquent account is reported on your credit report.
  • Change the mailing address on your credit card account. The imposter then runs up charges on the account. Because the bills are being sent to the new address, it may take some time before you realize there's a problem.
  • Take out auto loans in your name.
  • Establish phone or wireless service in your name.
  • Counterfeit checks or debit cards, and drain your bank account.
  • Open a bank account in your name and write bad checks on that account.
  • File for bankruptcy under your name to avoid paying debts they've incurred, or to avoid eviction.
  • Give your name to the police during an arrest. If they are released and don't show up for their court date, an arrest warrant could be issued in your name.

Computer Identity Theft: A Summary

Be cautious of what is on your computer and be more involved so you do not become a computer identity theft victim. The more you know about computer identity theft the safer you can become. Protect yourself from computer identity theft by using security software tools to increase the security on your computer.