Well, folks, apparently credit bureaus can and have been hacked, and apparently having your phone number, name, and address—all of which are public for me thanks to various reasons (though I have taken steps to correct that this past week)—is enough to steal identity. The thieves that struck me over Thanksgiving, which I discovered last Wednesday and sidelined me for the rest of the week dealing with (hence missing Wed. Post here), were able to apply for 6 cell phones in my name with Verizon and AT&T. Fortunately, they screwed up playing me enough that the accounts were held for verification and I was able to stop them before anyone got any phones or any permanent damage was done, but I have to wait 45 days for my credit to be cleaned up. And I also lost some money to the same people, who I paid for what I thought were legit goods and services but were not. Because I am careful, and it was through PayPal—through which I run my whole business and thus am a valued, heavy user—I will get most of it back within 90 days but it certainly was a wakeup call.
Why do I tell you all this? I tell it to you because it is a new day and age for security and risk online. It has been an issue for a while, but as credit card companies and merchant servicers have decided, in infinite stupidity, not wisdom, to ease some restraints, the public is more at risk. The fact is it is easier than ever to be a victim online of scammers and thieves. No precautions guarantee safety, but here’s eight that can really cut your chances and your liabilities.
Some precautions. First, save all your passwords into a fingerprint ID system. I use iPad, but there are options for cell phones of most brands now too. If the password never shows up written out or typed but can be accessed only by a finger print, it is much harder to hack.
Second, do business with strangers using a prepaid credit card. You have to put money on the card to spend it, and only put on there what you need for that transaction. Sure, you might lose a little money but you can dispose of and replace the prepaid card and limit your loss.
Third, use a secure system like PayPal that guarantees your purchases so if you get taken, you can file claims to get it back. Yes, it takes 90 days but it’s a guarantee most banks won’t give you.
Four, clean up your credit report and do a deep search on your names, phone numbers, addresses, and emails and send letters instructing the various sites you find in results to remove your private info. Clean up the web so that people cannot get access to the data they need to steal your identity. All will do so if asked but you have to read their Terms and follow their process. Is it time consuming, yes, but not as time consuming as being robbed or having identity stolen and then trying to recover.
Five, Google Phone. Get a google phone number and never give out your cell or home number. You can call using the Google Voice app for free and text too, and people will not be able to contact you in ways linked to credit cards or personal info they can hack and use to steal from you. For those of you doing online dating, this is especially vital as those sites are rife with fakes and scammers trolling for data to rob you.
Six, be careful of using video chat. It can be used to hack your iPad or computer and steal data and info. Someone tried to do it to me but all they got was a few names of family and a few of people I never heard of that self-populated here. Because I keep my iPad, which I now use as my primary online access and daily workhorse, clean of such data and well protected just to prevent such crap.
Seven, don’t trust anyone you don’t know well, especially if you have never met in person. Phone calls can be faked. Video chats can be too, and see point Six for the dangers of those. Face to face cannot. Catfishing is a reality, people posing as someone else then showing up thinking they are charming enough or have made enough emotional connect you will let it slide. If someone lied once about who they are, they will do it again. Never trust them a second time.
Eight, if you have any doubt, believe it. Trust your gut. If it feels like a scam, assume it is. Probably you are right and it is not worth the risk.
I hope these lessons help some of you avoid the pain in the ass I went through last week. They certainly kept me from losing more than a couple hundred bucks and a bunch of time, and as identity theft goes, those are really good numbers. I was lucky. And I will be even more careful in the future.
For what it’s worth…