By Stephen Lovell, GÉANT
“I’m Brian, and so’s my wife!”
Identity theft has always been a problem. In recent years its prevalence has increased, and there are now, according to some sources on the WWW, upwards of 190,000 reported cases per year in the UK alone.
What is Identity Theft?
Someone buys some goods and has them sent to you at your address. Which is nice. A couple of days later you get a ‘phone call from the company which has its logo all over the cardboard box the “gift” came in. They know your name, address, when the parcel arrived, what’s in it… all they want is your date of birth just to make sure it’s you. How do you know your caller is who they say they are?
Do you still receive bank or credit card statements on sliced tree? (I do). When you throw these away, do you shred them or just throw them in the recycling, such that they’d be readable by anyone between your bin and the big recycling machine?
Has anything you’re excited about receiving in the post never arrived – such as a credit card statement (ok, more realistically, perhaps a book?)
Have you been accepted for a loan you didn’t ask for? Or refused a product you /have/ asked for?
These are just a few examples of what could be going wrong, or you yourself could be doing (okay, perhaps not being excited to receive your credit card statement) such as shredding official paperwork when you don’t need it, making sure you receive what you’re expecting, making sure you don’t fall for scams should you receive things you didn’t ask for.
Perhaps nothing would happen if you nailed your bank statement to a tree in your local park (except you’d make a tree unhappy).
Perhaps you’re admired by so many that you regularly receive anonymous boxes of universal interlocking plastic bricks modelled on a Star WarsTM theme. I wish I was.
Sadly, there are thousands of people across the world looking to tap into the lives of others – stealing parts of their personal information to build a profile good enough to use for illegal financial transactions. Or worse.
Oh noes! What to do?
You can do quite a lot, actually. Some of it technical, some of it boring paperwork.
Firstly: Be aware. Be careful.
If someone has enough of your personal details, they could buy things & run up debts, or perhaps open new accounts in your name – Credit Reference Agencies (CRAs) in your part of the world should quickly catch up and show you what has recently happened in your name. Different jurisdictions have different rules about what the CRAs can charge you for their services and so on, but please do some research and find out what you have available to you. It is, sadly, your responsibility to maintain your angelic credit rating and watch that your financial records reflect reality (however far removed from a jet-set lifestyle that reality actually is!).
Don’t fall prey to cold callers saying they’re from your bank/supermarket etc
Don’t reveal more about you than you need to. Remember to take a breath; no institution/shop worth your time will ever try to rush you or ask for passwords or pin numbers. This also applies to social media; ranging from not showing pictures of your bank cards, to once-upon-a-time revealing where you live, and then a few months later telling everyone your weekly gym schedule…
Bad people do bad things, but many are lazy and wait for good people (like you and me) to feed them all the information they need…
The technical side:
- Don’t buy things / do your banking on shared (public) computers. Ever.
- Don’t give people access to your computers.
- Exercise caution with links in emails – hover over a link to see where it’s taking you.
- Don’t fall prey to cold callers saying they’re from your bank/supermarket etc.
- Keep updating all your tech.
- (Change default passwords)
- Don’t use the same password for all your shopping sites and banking accounts. Think about it – if someone got your password, and then they worked out where you bank and shop they could have all sorts of fun literally at your expense.
- Double check, then check again that the app/game you want to download is legitimate – use the (web) search!. Then check again for good measure.
Oh, and the good old fashioned cautionary statement:
If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Also this year GÉANT joins the European Cyber Security Month, with the 'Cyber Hero @ Home' campaign. Read articles from cyber security experts within our community and download resources from our awareness package on https://dev.connect.geant.org/csm2021