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War Games? It’s War, All Right, but Not Really a Game

Protect your personal information from cyber criminals.

My last article was an explanation of the differences between various computer support options.  Along the way there was a pleasant comment regarding my call for people to exercise caution regarding computer security.

That got me thinking: How many of us really know the effects of having our personal data breached? Well, according to a 2010 Federal Trade Commission report, identity theft ranked No. 1 among consumer complaints (ftc.gov/opa/2011/03/topcomplaints.shtm), with more than 250,000. 

The data show us that the majority of ID theft, roughly 50 percent, comes from lost or stolen wallets, dumpster diving and people close to the victim. This amounts to about $20,000 per incident, not to mention the mental anguish, business issues, as well as possible family and employment challenges a person will face.

Unsecured documents can take on many forms, including information shared in online: emails, chat rooms, Web storefronts, online gaming, Web email accounts, peer-to-peer file sharing programs, online banking … the list goes on and on.

A few recent examples of the more severe breaches is the Sony PlayStation hack, which resulted in personal data for more than 100 million people being stolen. How about Ford and Experian—both credit companies with databases containing personal financial information?

But, really, one of the most concerning yet easiest ways to get deep personal information was revealed by CBS News a few years ago in a newscast (youtube.com/watch?v=nM6R4gi8Q9Q) that showed how business-grade copy machines store images of files copied.

So what can we do to limit the possibility of our own computers being hacked or someone we know downloading our information to use against us? It starts with an anti-virus program with a firewall, as mentioned in a prior article. There are many great free, as well as subscription, versions.

Next, make sure you are aware of the people using your computer and what they’re doing, the websites they’re going to and the programs being used. If you bank online either through the computer or your smartphone,  make sure to password-protect the computer and phone so if either is stolen, information isn’t easily accessible. Also, make sure to change your most critical passwords frequently.

In the end, it may pay to have someone on your side helping to repel the barbarians at the gate. With that in mind, you may want to look into a company that provides identity-theft protection services.

KC June 16, 2011 at 10:09 PM
You actually make it sound more difficult than it really is to comit ID/Credit Card theft. In the past you had to go digging in the trash, use a skimmer, or use an RFID reader. Now you don't have to leave the house since various sites from China and Eastern Europe sell bulk/batches of stolen info for as little as 75 cents a piece and a la carte options (such as region, bank, etc.) for extra. There is no promise that every one you buy will work, but it's cheap enough that people can comit fraud easily.
Dixon Kavanaugh June 17, 2011 at 03:08 PM
No doubt KC.....75 cents to really screw up someones finances is pretty easy. We connected with Lifelock fro that very reason.
KC June 18, 2011 at 03:40 AM
Well, sort of. I had my CC number lifted last year and the biggest hassle was was that the bank woke me up at 6 am on my birthday to ask if I made some charges. Other than that, it was all their end. Lifelock... how can I put this nicely... end your account and run as fast and as far away from it as you can. It's a giant scam and even the CEO can't protect himself. http://gizmodo.com/5542092/lifelock-ceos-identity-has-been-stolen-13-times
Dixon Kavanaugh June 18, 2011 at 03:45 PM
I have heard that - do you have a recomendation?
KC June 18, 2011 at 04:20 PM
Yes, and it's probably cheaper than anything. Simply just be careful with your stuff. The odds of people digging through your trash have gone way down, but if you're still concerned you can always buy a shredder for documents. Just make sure it's a cross cut one, that way it makes it harder to put back together. The most important thing is to simply be smart about it, signing up for services like credit monitoring, life lock, etc. are just false senses of security. You can always get your annual credit score check each year if you want, but just being aware of your finances is even better. One thing you didn't mention as much is that a lot of the ID theft doesn't come from the individual making a mistake, it comes from the company. In some cases their security is lax, in other cases they just leave it sitting out on a loading dock. Hell, state of texas had millions of people's SS#s and all their personal info on an unsecured public server for over a year.
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