PERSONAL IDENTITY SECURITY
In today’s interconnected world, criminals have become increasingly adept at exploiting various methods to pilfer our personal information. The question is, how can our identities be stolen? The answer is surprisingly simple: through the theft or loss of our personal documents.
Personal information encompasses data that can reasonably be employed to identify an individual. It includes obvious details like your name and address, but in some cases, seemingly innocuous data such as your date of birth and postcode can be sufficient for identification purposes. Furthermore, personal information extends to encompass sensitive details such as tax file numbers, bank account particulars, photographs, videos, and even information about your affiliations and workplace – essentially, any data that could make you reasonably identifiable.
A personal document, on the other hand, is any document containing information pertaining to you. Examples encompass phone bills, bank statements, utility invoices, medical records, tax assessment notices, home ownership deeds, and rental agreements.
Identity credentials, meanwhile, represent a specific subset of personal documents often requested by governments and businesses as proof of your identity. These credentials include personal information like your name, date of birth, and address and comprise documents like your passport, birth certificate, and driver’s licence.
Your identity is vulnerable to theft in various scenarios:
Physical Theft or Loss: If you misplace your purse, wallet, or handbag, or worse, if they are stolen, your personal documents could fall into the wrong hands.
Home Break-Ins: Burglars breaking into your home can make off with personal documents.
Mail Theft: Thieves may snatch mail from your unsecured letterbox or even retrieve information from your discarded rubbish.
Digital Theft of Personal Information: Criminals can access your personal information digitally. Even minimal information can be exploited when combined with data from public sources like social media, including photos, date of birth, and familial information. This can enable them to apply for services or even create fake identity credentials in your name.
Scams: Sharing personal information over the phone or online with what appears to be a legitimate business, but is in fact a scam, can also result in identity theft.
Data Breaches: If your personal information stored on a business’s computer system is illegally accessed by outsiders or unscrupulous employees, your identity is at risk.
Online Hacking: Falling victim to online hacking can lead to the theft of your personal information.
Social Media Exposure: Information retrieved from social media platforms can be used for identity theft.
Stolen Personal Documents: If copies of your personal documents are stolen, your identity can be compromised.
So, how can you detect if you’ve fallen prey to identity theft? Often, victims remain unaware until significant damage has occurred. Some red flags to watch for include:
- Calls from creditors or debt collectors regarding unfamiliar transactions or debts.
- Receipt of unrequested credit cards.
- Unexpected credit denials.
- Refusal of services or benefits, with claims that you already receive them.
- Missing or reduced mail.
- Bills for goods or services you never ordered.
- Unfamiliar charges or withdrawals on your credit or bank card.
- Loss of your wallet, purse, or identity credentials, even if they are returned – they might have been copied.
To protect your personal identity security, consider the following measures:
Limit Carrying Important Documents: Try not to carry essential documents like your passport outside your home regularly to minimize the risk of loss or theft.
Secure Document Disposal: Properly destroy crucial documents before disposal using methods such as tearing, cutting, shredding, or burning. Alternatively, soak unnecessary documents in water overnight to ensure any identifying information is irretrievably lost.
Duplicate Key Documents: Make copies of critical identity credentials like your driver’s license, birth certificate, or passport, and store them securely. These copies can be invaluable for reissuing originals or verifying your identity if needed.
Secure Storage: Consider a fireproof and waterproof secure container or safe deposit box for important documents. Ensure electronically stored documents are secure, employing strong passwords, encrypted files, or trusted data vault websites. Avoid leaving personal documents in your car.
Mail Security: Secure your letterbox or use a secure post office box. Retrieve mail promptly and inform relevant organizations when you change your address.
Be cautious when asked for personal information.
- Obtain an annual copy of your credit report.
- Protect your computer.
- Scrutinise online bank and credit card records.
- Avoid entering personal information or passwords on unsecured websites.
- Safeguard your passwords.
- Refrain from entering passwords in public Wi-Fi areas.
- Use distinct passwords and usernames.
- Avoid clicking on links or opening attachments from unknown sources.
- Do not permit remote access to your computer.
- Protect information on mobile phones.
- Limit the details in online family trees.
Protecting Your Documents When Travelling:
When traveling abroad, take extra precautions with your personal documents. Make two photocopies of crucial documents such as your passport, itinerary, visas, traveller’s checks, credit card numbers, driver’s license, and insurance policy. Leave one copy with a trusted person at home and keep the other separate from the originals in a secure location while traveling.
By following these precautions and staying vigilant, you can significantly reduce the risk of identity theft and protect your personal information from falling into the wrong hands.
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