Identity theft happens when someone uses your personal information without you knowing about it. The risks can be significant. When you do things like log on to a website, enter a contest, sign up for a social network or pay bills through online banking, you're providing a wealth of information that can be stolen.
Aside from the inconvenience of having to cancel and open new accounts, identity theft can lead to more serious consequences:
- Bills, charges, bad cheques, and taxes.
- Clearing your name.
- A damaged reputation if your name isn't cleared.
- Bad credit rating, which could make finding employment or getting credit difficult.
- Emotional issues from feeling violated and having to deal with the consequences.
If you do have the misfortune of having your personal information compromised, the best thing you can do after addressing the immediate aftermath is to become as knowledgeable as you can about how to protect yourself in the future.
Online Identity Protection Tips
The easiest way to avoid identity theft? Don't let it happen. Keep these tips in mind at all times to help keep you safe:
- Before you share personal information, consider carefully what you're putting out there through email and social networking sites. This could include information like your cell number, address, hometown, workplace, status updates that let people know you're away and other revealing details.
- If you're asked for your personal information, find out how it will be used and why it's needed.
- Don't provide any more information than is required.
- Choose strong passwords. Don't use simple words or favorite names (like your child's name or your mother's maiden name). Try a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols.
- Don't keep your password in your wallet, saved on your computer or on your mobile device.
- Never use automatic login features that save your username and password. Take the time to re-enter your password each time.
- If you use webmail, make sure you are using a secure connection, a feature available from all of the major services.
- Use "2-step verification" to log on to web services, if this feature is available. Services using 2-step verification first ask you for a password and then verify your identity through a separate channel such as by a text message on your phone.
- Do not reply to or click on links in any e-mail that looks suspicious. Never open an attachment from spam or sender not known to you. Make sure that you are using anti-spyware software and that it is up-to-date.
- Always be wary of e-mails from financial institutions, Internet service providers, and other organizations asking you to provide personal information online. If in doubt, call the company directly and ask them to verify the e-mail.