Just a few years ago, the concept of buying something online was more than a little terrifying. People held their credit cards close, stating they would never release such personal information into the land of the unknown.
Times have changed. Today our personal data is stored in our mobile phones, making purchasing as easy as touching a button. We shop for everything from groceries to a new car, we job hunt, we sign contracts, we pay bills, send in our taxes, and share our latest adventures with the world on social media. In short, our fears are gone and we blast just about everything we do through small electronic devices held in our hands.
Yet how did we move so quickly from “never” to “everything” without a second thought? While some of us do question the safety of it all, we usually forget the entire concept when an email comes through and we simply have to buy.
We all hear about the cases of identity theft that destroy a person’s reputation for years. We hear the horror stories about fraud that makes a person lose everything. But that happens to the other guy; not us.
Sorry. If you use a mobile device, buy anything online, pay a bill, or post to your Facebook page, or even open up an email, you’re at risk. And it goes way beyond that as well. Companies are constantly buying and selling information about you, and sharing it in many ways. Its legal.
The first step is realizing its happening. The second step is to take an active role in what information you do share. And finally, learn how to protect yourself so you don’t end up as a statistic down the road.
How do I protect my identity online?
Be careful when providing anything beyond a first name and an email address. If a site asks for full name, full address, date of birth, account number, birthplace, credit card information, or bank account information, be wary before you type in the answer. Only use secure sites – they usually carry the padlock symbol. And when setting up a password, avoid the obvious choices, such as child’s name, pet’s name, mother’s maiden name, or any other reference to someone you may be talking about in the online world. A random mixture of letters and numbers is always best.
How do I avoid online scams?
There are numerous scams online, and the number and sophistication grows every day. Even I have looked twice at some of the emails coming through – they are that good and do an excellent job at mimicking actual companies. Phishing is a scam that lures you to websites that have a legitimate look and feel, then try to get you to enter your personal information under false pretenses. Even if an email looks legitimate, question everything before you enter personal data. Is there a reason they are emailing you now? Does the email make sense?
Always look at the email sender’s address carefully, and look at all URL link addresses to verify their true destination. Scammers often will use addresses that are close to the real thing, yet vary the letters just enough to throw you off – PayPal may become PayPaal for instance. At a quick glance, it looks right. Yet clicking on it or submitting your information can set off a spiral of unfortunate events.
What other rights do I have?
You also have the right to stop organizations from sharing information about you. With many items you legitimately sign up for, they will make you an offer to receive additional information about other topics, or from partnering sites. You can opt out at this point, and should always do so unless you truly want the information. If you have any concerns about the way someone is contacting you or using your personal information, contact them and have them explain how they are processing your personal information, and whether they are following the Data Protection Act or not.