The area of computer crimes and identity theft is growing with new schemes and new words to describe those schemes. If you are concerned about protecting your identity, there are identity theft protection services that monitor your personal information, alert you to threats and help you recover your good name. However, part of protecting your identity is knowing the lingo so you can understand the threat. Below are some of the lesser known but still common terms associated with identity theft, with some tips to keep them from happening to you.
You may hear in the news that a company has experienced a data breach. This means someone has gained unauthorized access to company data including personal and financial information, which can include everything from names to account numbers to social security numbers. A "company" can include everything from the local store you have a credit card or membership with to your employer or even the federal government.
Fraud alerts are filed with the credit reporting agency and signal that someone may have stolen your identity. It helps you because financial institutions then take extra steps to verify your identity and your authorization of transactions. If the institution doesn't get verification, it does not approve the transaction. Unfortunately, it's not a guarantee that every transaction will be guarded because in practice, the alert can be missed.
In identity theft, your personal information is stolen so the thief can use your identity, usually for financial reasons, but sometimes for other uses, like registering your address on the sex offender registry instead of their own. ID theft items include numbers like social security numbers, credit card numbers or insurance numbers; passwords; and names.
Keystroke logging software watches your keyboard and tracks the keys you type and can be used to root out your passwords and personal information.
This devious scheme directs you to a site that looks identical to the one you were looking for but belongs to the thief. Thus, if you put in personal information, it goes to the criminal and not the business you intended. You can protect yourself against this by having good security software on your computer, making sure you have the correct spelling of the website (including the top-level domain, like .com) and looking for a padlock on the bottom of your browser to indicate the site is secure.
You've probably received emails from someone posing as a legitimate business like PayPal, Amazon or your bank and asking you to visit a website to verify some information. This could easily be a phishing expedition. Essentially, phishing tricks you into giving your information by posing to be an institution you trust. The easiest way to avoid this is not to follow these links, but contact the institution using a phone number you find somewhere other than on the email.
Have you ever been surfing the web and gotten an alert saying your computer has contracted a virus and you need to click a link to repair it right now? That's scareware. This scheme hopes to shock you into clicking their link, which either asks you to purchase fake antivirus software (thus giving them your information) or actually installs malware onto your computer.
In school, there was always the kid who huddled over his test paper, lest someone look over his shoulder and copy his answers. When it comes to writing your personal information in a public place or punching in your PIN, it's a good idea to follow that kid's example. Shoulder surfers casually look over your shoulder to catch your personal information. Some have even been known to watch from a distance with binoculars.
Spoofing is a lot like pharming, in that it leads you to a fake sight that looks similar to one you normally trust and asks for your personal information. The difference is the website address is usually different. These are often associated with emails, so if you receive an email from your bank or favorite online store, it's always best to type in the link for yourself or use your bookmarks rather than follow a link in the email.
Trojan horses are accurately described. They look like innocent programs, but are actually malware that runs autonomously. Other types of Trojan horses will sneak into existing programs and run when that program does. As with most malware, the best prevention is good anti-virus software.
Think phishing over the phone. Named because the thieves use Voice over Internet Protocol phone numbers, the thief calls you pretending to be a creditor or your bank and asks you for your personal information. More often than not, the thief leaves a message with a number to call rather than speaking to you directly. If you receive such a call, your best bet is to provide nothing over the phone, but hang up and call the institution using a number you know or can find in the phone book or with a trusted search engine. If it claims to be a general "credit bureau," calling about your credit card, for example, give no information at all.
Identity theft is a hot topic. Changes in technology combined with the imagination of thieves means new and nefarious ways of stealing your information. Knowing the terms and the scams associated with them is the first step to making sure you aren t a victim.