Reckless use of passwords can lead to identity theft. Many people tend to think that it is not necessary to take important steps in ensuring that their accounts are secured. But have you ever paused and thought of what would happen if hackers laid their hands on your personal data?
It is almost impossible to use a large portion of the online services without being asked to provide some of your personal information. Once the information is provided, hackers are always waiting to lay their hands on it for the sole purpose of monetizing the information.
Identity theft has become a lucrative crime in the days that we are living in. Once a crook gets a hold of your personal information, they can do much harm including but not limited to; issuing credit cards in your name and spreading malicious information about you
How identities are stolen
There are many ways in which online users can become victims of identity theft.
- Download of malware on computers and phones
- Confidence scams and phishing
- Withdrawing money from rigged ATMs with a skimming device to collect information
- Use of insecure wireless networks
- Having personal data stolen from breached records in government, educational institutions or even companies
- Sharing passwords with untrustworthy people.
While some consumers are able to quickly resolve issues of identity theft and recover their identity, for some, it costs them huge amounts of money and time just to have their identity recovered. Worse still, some have lost their jobs as a result of tremendous damage caused to their reputation, while others have been arrested for crimes committed by someone using their identity.
But how are passwords connected to identity theft
In most cases, a person’s username serves as the email address. This username is usually easily obtainable and the only thing that keeps crooks away is your password. However, people do not tend to treat passwords with the respect they deserve. Report surveys have indicated that most people either use too weak passwords or worse still, they use recycled passwords.
Even though having your online forum profile hacked does not seem like a big deal, devastating results can be experienced especially if the same password that unlocks your online banking account is hacked into.
Weak passwords put you at a greater risk since hackers have now come up with a new technique to gain access into your accounts easily and quickly. A brute force attack enables hackers to make systematic attempts on various passwords and usernames combinations. This is done repeatedly until access is gained.
Identity theft is a serious crime and everyone should know how to protect themselves against becoming victims.
How to protect your online identity
Two factor authentication
Login to a website typically requires the use of a password and username combination. It is evident that hackers can easily steal your password from websites. By using two factor authentication when logging in to your account, usually, a text message is sent to your phone and you are instructed to input the content of that message to your website. It becomes difficult for hackers to access your website since you have something physical in your possession; your phone.
Unique passwords for multiple accounts
While it is advisable to have unique passwords for every account, it is also practically difficult to do so. This is because, it becomes rather difficult to memorise so many passwords for various accounts. As an alternative, web activities can be grouped in different ‘buckets’ and assigned passphrased password schemes which is easy to remember.
As earlier discussed, weak passwords give hackers an easy way to access your accounts. Passwords should be long with at least 8-10 characters. They should also be strong by making use of both lower and upper case letters, symbols and numbers. Making use of password managers is also a sure way of keeping passwords secure. Frequent change of passwords is also advised.
Unless you know who you are dealing with, never give out your personal information either by email, website or even phone. Avoid sharing your information with untrustworthy people. Some hackers will send you emails and messages pretending to be working for a bank. Avoid opening such emails and instead, search for the bank’s website on any search engine and open it from there.
Freeze your credit
By locking your credit, you deny the criminals a chance to use your stolen identity to open new lines of credit. Freezing your account ensures that no credit can be given without providing additional controls and information.
Credit score reviews
By regularly reviewing your credit score, it becomes easy to notice any abnormalities. Any transaction or loans reflecting on your credit score that you know nothing about should raise your eyebrows. Immediate cause of action should be taken to have them investigated and terminated.
Making online purchases
Before buying any goods and services from an online store, it is always advisable to do thorough research on the shop. For example, it would be good to know where the shop stands in terms of ratings and also what reviews other users have about the store. It is also good to ensure that the connection used for both the financial and personal information is not only secured but also encrypted.
Login attempts should be limited on any admin panel. For example, you can set your login attempts at three. If any IP address makes failed attempts exceeding the restricted number, it should be blocked and further attempts stopped.
Use of captchas
Use of captchas helps you to distinguish between real humans and computers. Therefore, captchas are greatly effective in the prevention of any type of automated abuse. This is achieved by the presentation of some tests which are often very easy for humans but rather difficult for the computers to pass. Through the use of these tests, it becomes easy to know if indeed there is a real human sitting at the other end or not.
Having seen that identity theft is real and the kind of damage it can cause, it is therefore advisable to always take good care of your passwords. Important elements to always remember include:
- Never send your password via email
- Incase you write down your passwords to avoid forgetting them, always have them encrypted to prevent other people from deciphering them. An online password safe or vault is a better alternative to writing down your passwords.
- For every website or account, have unique and different passwords
- Avoid using a password repeatedly
- Always make immediate changes to your passwords especially if you receive alerts about hacking attempts
- Avoid disclosing or sharing your personal information including passwords with other people. In case you suspect that someone else knows your password, it is advisable to have it changed immediately
- When entering your password, always ensure that no one else can see what you are typing.
- Finally, when choosing a password, always avoid the following;
- Use of birthday dates of family members or yourself
- Use of your actual name as a username
- Common words that can be easily found in the dictionary
- Incase of personal identification number, avoid the use of numbers that follow each other whether in an ascending or descending order.
Although the above list is not exhaustive, by consistently applying those steps, you can greatly reduce the risk of having your identity stolen. Protect yourself from identity theft by always staying alert.