10 tips on how to avoid ID theft at work Internet ScamBusters
In Issue #63, we talked about bank scammers and other emailed-based brains who seem to continually re-invent ways to separate you from your money -- or worse, your identity -- which can separate you from even more of your money.
This issue we're going to 'carry on' about identity theft, in light of a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report we read recently -- and focus on avoiding identity theft at work.
But first, a couple of important points:
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OK, let's get going...
10 Tips on How to Avoid Identity Theft at Work
As we've discussed in other issues of Internet ScamBusters, identity theft is a huge problem. Some experts estimate that up to 1 in 50 consumers have already been victims.
Unfortunately, there's an identity theft epidemic in the US.
For anyone new to the concept of identity theft: theft of identity takes place when someone other than you uses your personal information (for example, your social security number or credit card number) and pretends to be you for fraudulent purposes.
To some people, it may seem innocent enough. For example, we've heard dozens of reports from people whose email addresses have been 'kidnapped' to send everything from jokes to porn to spam.
However, in issue #63 we detailed a few more serious EBay scams and Best Buy scams that originated from this practice of forging email addresses.
Identity theft is a criminal offense, and the most serious -- and costly -- form of identity theft is when it is used to purchase goods or services, open new bank accounts or apply for credit cards in your name.
It takes victims an average of 175 hours to deal with the problem!
Days or weeks may go by before you realize you've been duped, and, in addition to the stress and pressure of having to prove that it wasn't you, it could cost you, literally, thousands of dollars.
It seems as if none of us ever believes it could happen to us. But the numbers speak for themselves.
It may be that it just hasn't happened to us yet...
In addition to the standard protections -- for example, never giving out personal information via email, never replying to spam, and making sure you have a good firewall program installed on your computer system -- today we'll focus specifically on how to protect yourself from identity theft in your workplace, both online and off.
10 Tips on How to Avoid Identity Theft at Work
1. Don't have open access to your data. Open access is obviously the number one way thieves can acquire your identity.
Ask yourself: How many people at my workplace have access to my computer?
You need to be aware of how easy it might be for co-workers or clients to physically sit down at your computer in your absence.
Set your screen saver to log you out after a few minutes of inactivity. Make sure you password protect any programs or files that contain your personal information.
2. If you are unable to use password protection on personal files, then save to disks anything that contains your identity information. Then, lock up the disks!
3. Encrypt your files. If neither of these options is appropriate for your particular workplace setting, you might want to think about 'encrypting' any files that contain personal information.
There is inexpensive software on the market today that specializes in this form of data security. One example is a program called PGP Disk.
4. Watch out for co-workers who regularly hang around your office chatting with you. Naturally, they are most likely NOT trying to steal your identity. However, they could be using their time in your workspace to glean your passwords or other personal information by 'shoulder surfing' -- looking over your shoulder as you work at your computer.
5. Instead of making use of the standard password wizards installed in popular software programs for frequently-visited websites, make the effort to memorize your passwords or list them separately and keep the list locked up somewhere safe. In any case, use different passwords for different sites, and change them often.
6. If the company you work for is upgrading or bringing in new computer systems, make sure the hard drive on your old system is permanently erased after transferring all your data.
Re-formatting or simply deleting programs and files using the standard 'uninstall' methods may leave personal data on your system that can be later recovered by someone else.
You probably have no idea how your old computer will be disposed of, or where it will end up!
7. Inquire about existing information, security procedures or policies in your workplace.
If there is nothing currently in place, consider spearheading a committee or workgroup to address the issue and formulate an approach that will work to help protect all employees.
This may also serve to educate everyone there about the sheer volume of identity theft, and generate new ideas about how to avoid it.
In addition to these security measures, here are some offline workplace-related precautions you can take:
8. Ask yourself: Is it really necessary to have all your credit cards with you at work every day?
It's a good idea to only carry with you the personal information that you really need for your day-to-day routine at work. Even then, keep your purse or wallet in a safe place while you are at work -- preferably under lock and key.
9. Ask questions when co-workers ask for your personal information. There may well be legitimate reasons why others in your workplace need to have access to your personal information.
However, if a co-worker asks for your social security number (or any other personal ID information), you have a right to ask why.
Find out why the information is needed, how it will be used -- and how it will be kept secure.
10. Keep tabs on your mail containing any personal information. Theft of personal mail is a very important way that scammers get their hands on your personal data.
If you routinely pay bills or create other personal 'snail mail' while at work that contains any of your personal information, don't use the interoffice mail procedures. Drop it off at the local post office on your way home instead.
11. Stay out of California. (We're joking, of course, but it's true that almost 1 in 5 of last year's reported cases of identity theft took place in the Golden State.) Clever scammers there, apparently!
Taking action on these tips at your place of work will help you move toward avoiding the #1 consumer complaint in the US today -- identity theft.
Wishing you a scam-free month.