Holiday “Toys” Can Carry Identity Theft Risk

Personal electronics such as laptops, portable GPS systems, and smartphones may be the most popular gifts this holiday season, but because they store your personal information they can put you at risk for identity theft—America’s fastest-growing crime. Read on to learn how your electronic “toys” provide opportunities for identity theft in ways you may not even be aware of. 

Smartphones

Electronics Carry ID Theft Risk
Personal electornics pose ID theft risk due to the storage of personal information

Even though it’s convenient, when you use your smartphone to access the Internet to pay bills or check accounts, all of your browser history becomes available to a thief who steals your phone or hacks it wirelessly. Read more about mobile phones and identity theft.

  • Sure, it’s fun to customize your phone, but when you use cute names like “Hubby,” or “The Mrs.,” for example, to identify specific phone numbers, you give a phone thief an easy path to identity theft. If your phone isn’t locked or password-protected, a savvy thief can text your spouse and ask for confidential information on the pretense of having forgotten it. Be wary of any text message that asks for sensitive personal information.
  • Don’t store your home address on your smartphone. That is one less piece of information that would fall into the wrong hands if your phone were stolen.

Laptops

  • Make a backup file of all your personal information—including passwords—and store elsewhere. Don’t use any feature on your computer that automatically saves passwords, especially for financial sites.
  • Consider adding a software service that can help track your laptop if it is lost or stolen. When a thief begins to use the laptop, it sends a signal to the service, and the service provider can try to recover it.
  • Check out this article from USA Today for more ways to keep your laptop safe.

Wi-Fi

  • Hackers can easily penetrate Wi-Fi networks. When you connect to an unsecured network, you give thieves easy access to your personal information.
  • Password-protect your home Wi-Fi account. Password encryption combined with up-to-date anti-virus and firewall software provides a three-tiered security system to protect your computer.
  • Stay informed. New technology will be launching in 2010 that could change the way people share information and could give identity thieves even more opportunities to intercept personal information.

GPS and Garage Openers

  • If you have a GPS device, be aware of the potential consequence of labeling your home address as “Home.” If your device is stolen, the thief will know exactly where you live.
  • Don’t leave your GPS device in the car, and wipe away any marks left on your windshield from your unit to discourage thieves from targeting your car for a device that might not even be inside.
  • A garage opener can also give car-stealing thieves easy access to your home. Hide it or take it with you when you leave your car.

Protect yourself and your children
Carry your electronics separately: Don’t carry your phone, laptop, credit cards, etc. in the same purse or briefcase. And never leave them in your car. That’s a disaster waiting to happen. Teach your kids about the dangers of identity theft. Show them this article, and then be sure they limit the amount of personal information they keep on their electronics and phones.

For more information, read:
An MSNBC article on remote-controlled “home-bots.”
A new Identity Theft ebook.

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