Before I start this article I would like to share a personal experience about fraud and my grandparents.
Last year my grandfather received a phone call from a man who claimed to be a lawyer in Virginia who told him that his grandson was in that state at a wedding, that he got drunk, drove, was arrested and needed $3,000 for bail money. My grandfather did exactly what any other caring family member would – he raced to a Western Union office to send the money.
My grandmother thought it was a bit odd and decided to call me and ask if my brother had traveled out of state to a wedding. He had not. My brother was safe at work in Ventura. I told them to get back in the car and get back over to the Western Union office to put a stop on the wire transfer. Thank goodness they called me in time and got back to the Western Union office in time. We were very fortunate and happened to get their money back.
So how can you protect yourself from crafty digital-age criminals?
Thieves are always looking for new ways to catch people unawares and take advantage of them. A lot of the technology you use everyday can leave you open for a possible attack. There is no guarantee that anyone’s information is 100% safe, no matter how careful you are, but there are a few small things you can do to reduce your risks of becoming a victim.
Phones and home valuables.
When it is possible, try to keep your private conversations private. In order to ensure that private conversations are not being spied on, sensitive conversations should be done in person and in a private location.
Cell phones are less secure than landline telephones and with the right technology your cell phone signal can be intercepted. It is best to keep your cell phone password protected and all of the information backed up. There is quite a lot of personal information stored on your cell phone that you may or may not know about:
Living in a gated community offers you excellent advantages such as:
There are additional safety measures that you can take. Always keep valuables hidden in your home; don’t leave things like jewelry boxes sitting on top of dressers in plain sight. Small portable fire safes are great for keeping your valuables safe from fire… but if a criminal finds one in your home, you saved them the trouble of having to collect your valuables in one place. If you need a fire-proof safe install one that is large enough that it cannot easily be lifted by one person and make sure it is bolted securely into concrete.
Don’t broadcast that you are leaving town, or that you are out of town, on social networking sites. That is sort of like putting up a flashing neon sign over your house that says “no one is home and no one will be home for a while, so come on in and take what you want.” Wait until you return home from your trip to share it with everyone.
Computers, spyware and deleting files.
Your personal computers contain a wealth of your most personal and valuable information as well as a venue for exploitation and theft by savvy criminals. The easiest way for a criminal to steal information off of your computer is to physically steal the computer. Laptops are prime targets for theft and you should never leave one unattended. Never leave them in your car, do not stow them in overhead bins while traveling and when you are at home, store them some place that they are not easily seen.
Truly deleting digital files is not as easy as it sounds. You may think that once you delete something from your computer that it is gone forever, but a lot of times that is not the case. Physically destroying old hard drives that you no longer need is the best way to make sure no one will retrieve any of your sensitive data.
We all do a lot of shopping online which means we are all typing our credit card numbers into lots of different websites. Make sure the company you purchase from is reputable. If something seems too good to be true, it is! Massive discounts on normally very expensive items from shady online stores are going to cost you a lot more than you think.
Medical records, credit reports, junk mail and documents.
Your medical records contain your entire family history as well as your personal contact information. It details your relationships (husband, wife, children, etc.), your sexual behavior, any illnesses, diagnosis, treatments, prescriptions, you name it! Unfortunately even these records aren’t that difficult for a savvy criminal to obtain, especially since medical providers now keep their patient records digitally. You can keep an eye on your records by visiting the Medical Information Bureau’s web site at www.mib.com or by calling them at 1-866-692-6901.
Also, always keep an eye on your credit reports. You are entitled to a free credit report once a year thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act. You can obtain your free yearly report by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228. Never assume that your credit report is accurate! Human beings enter the data into these reports and errors happen. You can also visit www.fdic.gov for more information on Consumer Protection.
Never write your full account numbers on your checks when you pay your bills, especially when paying credit card bills, just write in the last four digits of your account number.
When you need to dispose of bills or bank statements – never simply throw them in the trash! Criminals frequently “dumpster dive” for these documents. Shred everything. Everything! Credit card statements, bills, old debit or credit cards, bank statements, old pay stubs, anything of that nature. Cross-cut shredders are very inexpensive and can save you a lot of hassle.
Switch over to paperless billing and statements. Pretty much everyone now-a-days offers paperless statements… banks, credit cards, house-hold billing companies. Having them all delivered to your email inbox instead of your physical address saves paper, postage and also eliminates the possibility of someone stealing your mail.
Do not fill in any personal information that you do not absolutely have to when filling out documents. If the fill-in box states that it is optional – keep it to yourself. If you must fill in something, keep it as brief as possible. For example, don’t fill in your full legal name – use your initials. A lot of junk mail comes from people filling in all of their personal data when they really did not have to.
You can also include your name in the Do Not Call Registry (www.donotcall.gov) to cut down on the amount of telemarketers calling you. I suggest adding both your home telephone and cellular numbers to the registry.
Protecting yourself from victimization truly is in your hands. Making small changes in your life and keeping an eye on your assets, your information and your technology can keep you and your family from identity theft or other problems.
We hope we have enlightened and not frightened you. TeCHS serves all of Ventura County, California… and a few of the surrounding cities as well. If we can assist you in any way we can be reached by phone at (800) 669-2022 or online at www.ezdigitallife.com.
Your Digital Life Simplified!
www.ezDigitalLife.com | (800) 669-2022