National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW) is March 6-12. This annual event encourages individuals and businesses to learn about their consumer rights and how to keep themselves secure. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and its NCPW partners provide free resources to protect consumers from fraud, scams, and identity theft.
Protecting Your Privacy
- Do business with credible companies
Before supplying any information online, consider the answers to the following questions: Do you trust the business? Is it an established organization with a credible reputation? Does the information on the site suggest that there is a concern for the privacy of user information? Is legitimate contact information provided? If you answered “No” to any of these questions, avoid doing business online with these companies.
- Do not use your primary email address in online submissions
Submitting your email address could result in spam. If you do not want your primary email account flooded with unwanted messages, consider opening an additional email account for use online.
- Devote one credit card to online purchases
To minimize the potential damage of an attacker gaining access to your credit card information, consider opening a credit card account for use only online. Keep a minimum credit line on the account to limit the amount of charges an attacker can accumulate.
- Avoid using debit cards for online purchases
Credit cards usually offer some protection against identity theft and may limit the monetary amount you will be responsible for paying. Debit cards, however, do not offer that protection. Because the charges are immediately deducted from your account, an attacker who obtains your account information may empty your bank account before you even realize it.
Staying Safe on Social Networking Sites
- Limit the amount of personal information you post
Do not post information that would make you vulnerable, such as your address or information about your schedule or routine. If your connections post information about you, make sure the combined information is not more than you would be comfortable with strangers knowing. Also be considerate when posting information, including photos, about your connections.
- Use strong passwords
Protect your account with passwords that cannot easily be guessed. If your password is compromised, someone else may be able to access your account and pretend to be you.
- Be skeptical
Don't believe everything you read online. People may post false or misleading information about various topics, including their own identities. This is not necessarily done with malicious intent; it could be unintentional, an exaggeration, or a joke. Take appropriate precautions, though, and try to verify the authenticity of any information before taking any action.
- Evaluate your settings
Take advantage of a site's privacy settings. The default settings for some sites may allow anyone to see your profile, but you can customize your settings to restrict access to only certain people. There is still a risk that private information could be exposed despite these restrictions, so don't post anything that you wouldn't want the public to see. Sites may change their options periodically, so review your security and privacy settings regularly to make sure that your choices are still appropriate.
Preventing and Responding to Identity Theft
How do you know if your identity has been stolen?
Companies have different policies for notifying customers when they discover that someone has accessed a customer database. However, you should be aware of changes in your normal account activity. The following are examples of changes that could indicate that someone has accessed your information:
- unusual or unexplainable charges on your bills
- phone calls or bills for accounts, products, or services that you do not have
- failure to receive regular bills or mail
- new, strange accounts appearing on your credit report
- unexpected denial of your credit card
What can you do if you suspect or know that your identity has been stolen?
Recovering from identity theft can be a long, stressful, and potentially costly process. Many credit card companies have adopted policies that try to minimize the amount of money you are liable for, but the implications can extend beyond your existing accounts. To minimize the extent of the damage, take action as soon as possible:
- Start by visiting IdentityTheft.gov – This is a trusted, one-stop resource to help you report and recover from identity theft. Information provided here includes checklists, sample letters, and links to other resources.
- Possible next steps in the process – You may need to contact credit reporting agencies or companies where you have accounts, file police or other official reports, and consider other information that may have been compromised.
Categories: Science and Technology