Presenting Your Safest Online Self
Tips to protect online identity against fraud
NuData Security – Lisa Baergen
Looking to learn something about a new acquaintance, a potential employee, a possible friend or even an employer? The first place most people turn for information is Google.
A little-known fact is that cybercriminals google too. Social engineering isn’t much more than using a little bit of manipulation to gather valuable tidbits of useable data from available information online. And, when it comes to converting personally identifiable information (PII) into monetizable data, social profiles are a thief’s best friend. Through social engineering, fraudsters often find a treasure trove of data with which they can overtake a victim’s identity and manipulate it for financial gain.
It can be daunting to take the first steps in protecting and managing identity to protect against fraud, but the good news is that there are some preliminary steps any individual can do to ‘tighten up’ their online information, strengthen their digital identity, and help protect against would-be thieves.
Keep in mind, these steps will change as new social networks rise and fall, and as new sources of personally identifiable information (PII) online becomes available to fraudsters.
1. The first step is to learn what’s “out there” regarding minable data that, when matched with stolen PII, can help a fraudster. Start with a Google search of your name and see what comes up, then refine the search of your identity by distinct factors such as current and previous address, employment, education, etc. – the sort of information that someone could use to try and convince a customer service rep that they are you. Information like birthdays, emails, telephone numbers, education, family names, and pets are exactly the data points that institutions might use to verify your identity, and fraudsters could use to hijack your account.
Take the time to study the results. This is exactly what a fraudster would do in a targeted social engineering hack of your identity. Ask yourself what search results would most likely reveal the sorts of personal data that a fraudster might use at the institutions you deal with and what you can do about it? At this point, for many people, the search diverts into concerns about protecting online privacy and reputation. For example, the “red plastic cup” (of drinking at a party) that you may not want exposed to the wide world, but are fine for your friends.
2. Next, check your social media accounts. Ensure that information such as birthdays, education, family, friends, pets, home address, etc. aren’t publicly available and that your privacy settings on social media block non-friends from posting to or seeing what is on your wall.
3. Keep your phone protected. It’s the gateway to a huge amount of valuable personal information. It should be password protected as a safeguard in the event of loss or theft, and the operating system should be kept stringently up-to-date to guard against attacks. Most phones have the ability to be wiped from another device in the case of theft.
4. Activate alerts with credit bureaus, your bank, and your credit cards. Most banks and credit card companies offer security alerts as a free service. While the processes differ between various credit bureaus and entities, the goal is the same: immediate alerting of any suspicious activity.
5. Shop safely online. Start with making sure that the web address begins with https (not http) on any page you input data. The https signifies a more secure website ensuring your data is submitted via encrypted pages and that the environment you’re shopping in is safe – both physically and digitally. If you’re not on a trusted and secured network, consider yourself in an unsafe digital territory. And don’t log into any online site when you are on an open wifi connection.
6. Stay vigilant. Monitor bank and service provider’s statements regularly, and be on the lookout for any anomalies – even as small as $1. Likewise, if you’ve had a problem logging into your credit card or banking account, call the institution immediately. Consider purchasing credit and identity protection services that can continuously monitor your account and send you notifications should anything go amiss.
While these and other basic steps may seem time-consuming, they’re a small price to pay for the convenience of online shopping and being able to make digital transactions safely. And, these safeguards are a minuscule price to pay to protect our digital lives and our digital identity.
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