Survive the Nightmare of Identity Theft

Physician's Money Digest, September 2005, Volume 12, Issue 13

BusinessWeek

The first step in protecting yourselffrom identity theft is knowing whatscams are out there. According to aarticle, the following arethe latest cyber-tricks being used:

•Phishing. This involves hackerssending e-mails posing as legitimatebusinesses to consumers. The e-mailsask for personal information to beupdated, collecting the consumer's passwordsand account numbers.

•Pharming. This is a sneakierform of phishing, where viruses areattached to e-mails and Web sitesmonitor a victim's computer andsteals their passwords when they visitfinancial sites.

•Bot networks. Bots are programsthat hackers use to take control of a victim'scomputer. Hackers then use thecomputer to spread viruses and spam.

•Wi-Phishing. Also known as"evil twins," wi-phishing involveshackers operating their own wirelessnetwork in a spot where an unsuspectinguser will access it. They willthen monitor the victim's networkuse to steal information.

•Typosquatting. An embarrassingway to become a victim of identity theft,it works when a user misspells the nameof a popular financial Web site, and ahacker has set up a site at the incorrectaddress to mirror the legit site, so thevictim doesn't realize the difference. Thevictim's computer is then infected andtaken over by the hacker.

You've likely heard stories from yourcolleagues about their brushes withidentity theft. A good friend of mine, anavid eBay enthusiast, recently fell victimto phishing. She received an e-mail thatwas seemingly from PayPal, an onlinepay service. The e-mail instructed her toverify her account information, includingher password and credit card number.Since the e-mail looked genuine, shesubmitted her information. The hackerssnatched her identity, and used it toopen another eBay account.

How can you possibly protect yourselffrom the onslaught of identity theft?The best defense is to be as vigilant aspossible. Never respond to e-mailsrequesting any type of personal information.If the e-mail appears legitimate,call the company that supposedly sent itand inquire about it. Companies rarely,if ever, actually need you to update yourinformation. The only time you'll needto do so is when you've had a lifechange, such as if you move or get marriedand take on a new name.

Go over your credit card statementsevery month meticulously. If you noticeany suspicious activity, contact the creditcard company immediately. Be sure toshred anything containing your personalinformation as identity thieves rummagethrough garbage bins in anattempt to score credit card and socialsecurity documents. To further probeyour credit, order your credit reportfrom one of the big three credit bureaus:Experian (888-EXPERIAN; www.experian.com), Equifax (888-766-0008;www.equifax.com), and TransUnion(800-680-7289; www.transunion.com).

Identity theft isn't limited to the computer.Be careful when using an ATM,which is another hotspot for identitytheft. Protect your PIN by making surethat no one can see the numbers youpunch in. Use only bank ATMs andavoid the sketchy stand-alone ATMsfound at most convenience stores.Thieves can attach scanning devices tothese ATMs and steal your information.Don't use PINs that are obvious, such asyour birthday or the last four digits ofyour Social Security number.

If one of your credit or bank accountsis breached, close the accountimmediately. Place a fraud alert withone of the big three credit bureaus. Setup new accounts and choose differentpasswords for them. Report the incidentto the police so that you have arecord of the theft you can use as proofto show creditors. You should also submita complaint to the Federal TradeCommission.