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Guarding against identity theft

By | August 15th 2009

By Tania Ngima

If you have an email address, then chances are that you’ve come across the numerous fraud scams on the Internet. Whether it’s a West African asking for your help to transfer funds out of his country for a percentage of the takings, or your ‘service provider’ asking for a confirmation of your personal details, financial fraud is fast becoming a rampant problem.

The fact that we’re increasingly leaning towards transacting over the internet on a day to day basis makes us susceptible to various types of fraud. The best defence against identity theft or fraud is awareness.

Safeguard your credit

If you have ever used or paid for a purchase with your credit card and signed but forgotten to get your receipt, you could be unwittingly aiding someone to carry out one of the most effortless forms of theft.

Armed with your credit card details and your signature, a fraudster can make purchases over the Internet or over the phone.

Unless you have a ‘spending alert’ agreement with your service provider that lets you know every time your card has been used, the only point at which you’ll know your card was used will be through your statement.

Keep details of any purchases you make online to cross check against your monthly bill.

Ensure you always study the charges on your credit card statement every month, and be on the lookout for those that look unfamiliar.

When using the Internet to process transactions on your card ensure the following:

-You’re using the latest browser: This will have the newest encryption technology, making your information less vulnerable to hackers.

The URL at the beginning of the address should have changed from ‘http’ to ‘https’, and there should be a ‘lock’ icon on the browser window.

-Ensure the entity you’re dealing with is authentic by looking for digital signatures. Click on the secure logo to check that the site is legitimate and not a clone designed to steal personal info.

-Check your email for confirmations of your order from the vendor.

Similarly, if you receive unsolicited credit card offers from a service provider, destroy them by shredding them completely.

To reduce the chances of a fraudster getting hold of your credit card, only carry one with you and only when necessary.

In case you lose your card or your wallet, report the card stolen immediately to thwart usage.

Protect your information

Beware of giving out personal or business information over the phone unless you have a way of ascertaining the caller’s identity. The individual may try to source for information under the pretence of being from the government, your bank, or even service provider.

Regardless of how believable the story is, your best option is to get their details, that is, name and telephone number and call back the service provider on the numbers in the directory and find out if the inquiry was legitimate.

keep passwords private

Guard the information on your personal and business computers from hackers by using higher settings to dissuade viruses and Spyware, installing firewalls and updating your software to fix security holes.

If you need to place sensitive information on your website, such as financial data, make certain it’s password protected and encrypted.

Protect your computer and your computer network with strong hard-to-guess passwords.

If you have a large computer network for business purposes, limit access on a need basis and ensure that an outsider cannot easily access your information or data just by sitting at a computer.

Guard your money

Exercise great caution with your debit/ATM cards. Always try to memorise your PIN number and avoid writing it down at all costs.

However, if you must, do not write it on your card or keep it anywhere in your wallet or within proximity of your card. Change your passwords every once in a while.

A number of banks now have strategies to safeguard their client accounts by using Mobile alert services. In addition to checking your balance via text message, they also notify you when a withdrawal has been made on your account.

In case of a lost or stolen ATM card, there exists a blocking facility that can be activated by text message as well. Inquire at your bank if this facility is available.

Keep a close watch on your cheque books. Do not leave them lying around as all it takes is for someone to forge your signature and present it for paying.

If you cancel cheques that had already been signed, shred these to ensure that no one can put together your signature.

In the event that you need to throw away documents with personal information, ensure you shred them, or even better, burn them.

You never know when a fraudster might decide to go through your discarded papers and find an opportunity ripe for the picking.

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