The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse Chronology of Data Breaches has, since 2005, been tracking the amount of records that were exposed due to data breaches. That number stands at just under 870 million and counting. In 2013 alone the Identity Theft Resource Center reported that just under 92 million records were exposed.
Most people realize that identity thieves are looking for their passwords and sometimes their email addresses but, frankly, those aren’t the only numbers they’re looking for. If you want to protect your identity, your money and, in some cases, your life, the numbers below need to be guarded as well as you can.
The first is your Phone Number. Many companies use it to identify you and, with something called “caller ID spoofing” identity thieves can make it look like your number is the one they’re using when they call these companies. Don’t give out your phone number to anyone when it isn’t 100% absolutely necessary.
Next are Dates and ZIP Codes. The ZIP code where you used to live for currently do, the date of your birth, the dates that you attended college and other numbers like this can “open the door” to identity thieves. Putting this information on public websites like social media and personal blogs is definitely not a good idea. The concept that “less is more” is one that all consumers must learn in the 21st century.
Then there are PIN Codes. Your best bet is to be extremely paranoid when using a credit or debit card and typing your PIN number. Cover your hands to keep the information away from cameras that card skimming operations might be using to record it.
Social Security Numbers are definitely valuable for identity thieves and, even though many organizations ask for those numbers, very few actually need them. You should definitely be careful about who gets them, how they collect them, and how they store these extremely vital identifying numbers. Always ask if it is 100% necessary to give these numbers out and question whether it’s logical based on the transaction you’re making.
These days using a personal check is one of the least secure ways to actually pay for something because your Bank Account Number is right there on your checks. You should definitely consider using a credit or debit card which actually protects you in case of identity theft.
One common tactic that scammers are using these days is to inform someone that their IP Address has been associated with online criminal activity and demand money for “putting things right”. Sometimes they can even lock up your computer in exchange for send money. Using a browser that hide your IP address is your best bet.
Then there are your Driver’s License and Passport Numbers, critical elements of your personal identity info that, unfortunately, can be counterfeited.
Finally, with health insurance fraud on the rise, your Health Insurance Account Numbers should definitely be protected. In many cases the information that’s been put onto someone’s health insurance records by criminal identity theft has caused catastrophic changes in a person’s treatment. Records that feature these numbers should always be kept as safe as possible.
All consumers should have a damage control program in place that, if identity theft is suspected, can be put into action to minimize the damage identity thieves can do. By calling either your credit union account rep, your insurance agent, the HR department at your work and someone at your bank, you may find that there already is a program that can help you recover from identity theft.
Unfortunately there’s almost no way to avoid identity theft and cybercrime completely but there are definitely a number of things that you can do to minimize the damage, and keeping the numbers above as safe and secure as possible is your first and best way to start.