Identity theft, like all crimes, grows and ebbs in cycles. And like all crimes, certain factors can influence the growth of or lack of growth of any crime. For identity theft, one of the factors currently contributing to the growth of the crime and the ease with which a criminal can commit identity theft is your gadgets.
Electronic gadgets have grown in popularity to the point that it seems like everyone ones more than one. Cell phones, iPods and MP3 players, and even GPS units can put you at risk. They’re everywhere. Everyone uses them—both criminals and victims.
Identity Thieves Use All Available Technology
Criminals can use gadgets, like a cell phone with picture of video capabilities to capture credit card numbers, bank card numbers and pins, and even to gather enough bits and pieces of your personal information to gain access to other information that’s needed to complete stealing your identity.
Think about it. A criminal with a camera phone can snap a shot of your license plate, and with a little research that criminal can have your name and address. That leads them to your mailbox where they can pick and choose the information they want to collect about you—bank statements, credit card statements, investment information, even purely personal communications.
But did you know that those same criminals can use your own gadgets against you? Think about the phone numbers you have programmed into your cell phone. Is “Home” one of them? Did you know that a phone number is enough for an identity thief to find out where you live. And that’s assuming you don’t have that programmed into your phone as well.
What about your spouse’s phone number? If it’s programmed into your phone as “Hubby” or “Sweetheart” you could be putting yourself at risk. All it takes is for a criminal to steal your purse while your cell phone is in it. Then they not only have your bank card, but they also have access to your spouse. It takes just seconds to compose a text message to your spouse claiming to have forgotten your pin number, and just a few seconds more to clear out your bank account when your spouse texts back the pin.
And here’s one more scenario for you. Do you have a GPS system in your car? If you do, you probably keep it mounted on the dash or stored in a glove compartment when you’re not in the car. Is your home address programmed into the GPS? Bad idea.
A criminal—either an identity thief or just a thief—can break into your car and steal your GPS system that will lead them straight to your house. If they do that while you’re in a movie or at a function that takes more than a few minutes, they can have the GPS system lead them to your house and steal whatever they want in the time you’re gone. Since they know where you are, and probably have a good idea of what you’re doing, they’ll know how much time they have to get in and out.
Protecting Your Gadgets and Yourself
So what are you to do? We’ve all become so reliant on our gadgets that we can’t imagine life without them. And if you’re not willing to give them up, then you need to learn some new habits. Here are five tips to help you keep your gadgets and your identity safe.
Stay Generic: When you’re programming names, numbers, and addresses into your gadget try to keep them generic as possible. Include only as much information as you must have, and never use monikers like “Hubby,” “Sweetheart,” “Best Friend,” or “Mom and Dad.”
Skip the Owner Information: Owner information on a gadget is a gold mine for identity thieves. And the truth is, it’s very rarely used to return a lost gadget. So, don’t use it. If you happen to be one of those people that just has to include the owner information, be sure you lock the device when it’s not in use and use a lock pin or combination that’s not easily guessed.
Carry Devices Separately: If you’re a woman and you carry your devices in your purse and your purse is stolen or lost, then whoever ends up with it not only has access to all the information in the purse, but they also have access to all the information on the devices that are there. In many cases, that could be a considerable amount of information—enough to steal your identity.
Educate Your Kids: Kids today have as many devices as their parents do. And those devices contain just as much information. Teach your kids about the dangers of identity theft. Remind them to limit the amount of personal information on the devices they carry, and to keep the devices on their persons at all times. Even high school kids can commit identity theft.
Remain Aware in Public Places: When you’re in public, always know what’s going on around you. At the bank, shield account and pin numbers from the view of nearby patrons. Avoid using your phone to pay bills or access accounts in public places, and never give out account or pin numbers over the phone if you’re in public. Remember there’s someone standing just off to the site waiting to picture or record the information that you’re sharing.