Identity theft: five simple ways to protect yourself
Identity theft has been around forever. Even in ancient times, impersonators would pretend to be someone they were not – a prince, a long-lost heir to a great fortune, a merchant who had died at sea. The Internet has made the theft much easier. A hack here, a lost flash drive there, and tens of thousands of people can find themselves with false credit-card charges or drained bank accounts. In 2008 alone, 10 million Americans had their identity stolen. Here are five practical tips to keep your identity safe:
Illustration by Jake Turcotte/The Christian Science Monitor
1. Make better passwords
We've been told to create better passwords for years, but many of us are still not following the advice. Check right now: Are you guilty of using the same password again and again, or a very simple password?
The first rule of passwords is not to use the same password over and over. You really do need at least a slightly different password for every account you have.
Second, don't use a password that anyone who knows you could easily guess. For example, if you love the Atlanta Braves baseball team, don't make your password “braves.” Don't use your own name, your children's names, or your pet's name – these passwords are very easy to guess. Some viruses are programmed to hack into systems by trying one by one all the most commonly used passwords. If you've ever used the password “admin,” or a first name, you'll understand why this method of hacking is still successful.
If you do want to use your favorite baseball team, your child's name, or your hero's name for your password, make it harder to guess. “Braves”, for example, could easily be turned into “br@v35.” Try replacing “a” with an @ sign, “e” with a 3, “s” with a 5, and so forth – whatever makes sense for you.
Then there's the problem of having multiple passwords. Instead of trying to remember thirty different passwords, create a core password, such as “br@v35,” then modify it slightly for each use in a way that you can remember. Your email password might be “ebr@v35,” where the “e” stands for “email.” If you bank with ABC Bank, your online banking password could be “ABCbr@v35." For someone trying to guess your password based on a few facts that they know about you, or for programs trying random words, your password will be very difficult to guess.
By using the method mentioned above, you can create a unique password for every account you have, yet you'll be able to remember each one without having to write it down.
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