By John Sileo, [cc id=’csid’] consumer security expert
I recently posted the first three of my seven easy measures to help prevent personal identity theft, including monitoring accounts, using surveillance and opting out of financial junk mail.
Below are the remaining four tips, which I encourage you to pass onto your employees after they have begun to consider or take on the initial three. Again, teaching your employees to protect their personal identities will help establish a framework that is crucial to the success of your business’ security efforts.
4. Freeze Your Credit File
Every time you establish new credit (e.g., open up a new credit card, store account or bank account, finance a car or home loan, etc.), an entry is created in your credit file, which is maintained by the three primary credit-reporting bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. The trouble is, with your name, address and social security number, an identity thief can pretend to be you and can establish credit in your name.
A credit freeze is an agreement you make with the three main credit reporting bureaus that they won’t allow new accounts (credit card, banking, brokerage, loans, rental agreements, etc.) to be attached to your name/social security number unless you contact the credit bureau, give them a password and allow them to unfreeze or thaw your account for a short period of time. While this can be a little inconvenient when you want to set up a new account and can cost a few dollars (generally about $10 to unfreeze), it is a small price compared to the risk and recovery costs of identity theft.
5. Protect Your Computing Devices
In order to close potential data leaks, it is important to protect all of the identity documents stored on our home and work computers. The following suggestions will get you started, but you may want to hire a computer security professional to help you protect this very valuable asset in the fight against identity theft.
- Create strong, alphanumeric passwords.
- Install a security software suite on every computer you own. It should include: anti-virus and anti-spyware scanners, password protection, phishing and pharming filters and a firewall.
- Configure your computer systems for automatic operating system and security patch updates.
- Utilize encryption software for professional-level protection.
- Physically lock-down your computers, especially if you use a laptop, tablet or smartphone.
- Secure your wireless network with WPA2 encryption, not WEP.
- Secure your Mobile Data Devices (iPhones, BlackBerrys, laptops, tablets) physically and digitally.
6. Lock Up Valuable Identity Documents
Our most valuable identity documents are exposed to identity theft (and natural disasters, such as fire and floods) as they sit in unlocked filing cabinets, office drawers or out in the open. To complicate matters, the problem of data theft goes beyond paper documents to digital media. More than ever we need to be concerned with the physical protection of hard drives, cell phones, thumb drives, CDs and DVDs with sensitive personal or business data on them.
To store them securely, purchase a fire-resistant, locking filing cabinet. Your identity is probably worth something close to $300,000, not to mention the value of any business data for which you are responsible. Investing in a cabinet to lock up the keys to your identity is simple and goes a long way.
7. Destroy Irrelevant Documents with Identity Information
Assume that any document you throw out will end up in the hands of an identity thief. Get in the habit of either destroying or locking documents and disks that contain identity information, even if the information isn’t yours. Remember to destroy digital files as well, like those that live on CDs and DVDs. If you can’t shred it, lock it up in a safe or locking filing cabinet.
Convenience is key! Place a shredder in each place you handle identity documents (where you open your mail, your home office, your desk at work) and shred everything possible. If you don’t make it convenient for yourself, it won’t get done.