Defend Your Data

Defend Your Data

By Carmen Harbour

Think for a moment about what would happen if you lost your smart phone. Not just misplaced it, but that it was truly gone.

Of course, you’ll lose some contact numbers and miss some calls and have to go through the ordeal of getting a new one.

But, what would happen if your phone ended up in the wrong hands? Just think of how much personal information about you is stored in that innocuous palm-sized device.

“Anyone can get your social security number with just your name, address and date of birth,” warns Lana Gautier, who runs the site Identity Theft Manifesto.

Gautier’s knowledge is hard-earned, as she was a victim of a 6-year spanning identity theft that dropped her credit score into the low 600s overnight and led to her having anxiety attacks.

“My reputation was completely ruined,” she says about her experience. “I was fighting for my innocence and my good name.”

Frustrated with trying to clear debts and restore her credit, Gautier started her site as a way to vent, and has turned it into a resource on all facets of identity fraud and prevention.

Unfortunately, identity theft has been on the rise in recent years, with 11.6 million victims reported in 2011, up from 8.1 million in 2010.

And reported total losses from this crime were at $18 billion last year.

So, if you’re ready to plug your security leaks, Gautier is here to help get you started on the road to keeping your financial identity safe.

“I am on a mission to educate and help,” she says, “because one of the biggest mistakes people make is thinking that it will never happen to them.”

– Be on the look out by:

  • Checking your credit score annually. “Monitoring your credit file is not a preventative measure,” says Gautier. “It is rather an early identity theft detection tactic.”
  • Checking your children’s credit score, as well. According to the 2012 Child Identity Theft Report, 1 in 10 minors are victims.
  • Using a freeze on your credit file. “It is a great prevention tool against new financial account fraud,” says Gautier. This keeps potential creditors and other third parties from being able to gain access to your credit report unless you temporarily lift the freeze. Check out the FTC’s site for more information on credit freezes.

– Make a few lifestyle changes by:

  • Shredding documents with personal information, like credit card pre-approvals. Gautier recommends, “get a good shredder and have fun!”
  • Removing personal info from online social networks, like birthdate, phone number and address. Also, consider added security measures, like “using a separate email account for social networking profiles and opting out of having profiles be publically searchable,” says Gautier.
  • Using a different password with a mixture of characters for each account you have. Check out Gautier’s site for guidance on how to toughen up your passwords. Too many passwords to keep straight? Not a problem – use a password manager.
  • Being wary while shopping online. If a site seems suspicious, “call and talk to them if you have to,” says Gautier.

And, above all, remember: “Identity theft is non-discriminatory crime. Anyone is a potential target,” cautions Gautier.

Lana Gautier runs and writes for Identity Theft Manifesto – a resource for information on different forms of identity theft and its prevention. “What really kept me going is the idea that I can share my knowledge with others,” she says.

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