According to the FTC, identity theft is up over 20.4% in 2020. Losing your identity is a very scary proposition. Unfortunately, I was a victim of identity theft. A thief stole my identity and submitted a tax return in my name.
Unknowing that this occurred I submitted my tax returns only to be rejected by the IRS. Panic started to set in. I was already filing late as I seem to always to. I needed to submit my tax return by April 15. I got a notification on April 14 that my tax return was rejected. I was puzzled.
I tried to call the IRS on many occasions and sat in the queue for hours with no one answering my call. I was frustrated. So, I decided after lots of research to write a letter and submit my tax return by mail. Of course, I was late and hoping that I would not be penalized. Thankfully, I was not.
Almost a month later, the IRS sent me a letter that they received my tax return and I was a victim of identity theft. They mail me a pin every year that I must use to submit my taxes with. I cannot submit my taxes without that pin. It is a little reassuring that I am somewhat protected from this happening again. I was notified six months later they caught the perpetrator, found him guilty, and he was sent to jail.
I seem to be a target for hackers. A few years ago I was noticing suspicious activity on my different accounts including email, Facebook, and others. I was bound and determined to defeat the threat and stop the madness. I also seem to lose my debit card every so often and I am extremely paranoid today. I am a cybersecurity professional and educator so you would think this would be easy for me to correct. NOT!
I had to do a considerable amount of research and with experimenting with different things before I finally stopped the hacking. I will share with you some of my findings. I am going to tell you that the Internet is not a friendly place but a very hostile place for your identity if you are not careful. I am not trying to scare you but sometimes you have to scare someone to get a point across.
#1 Protect my personal identifable information (PII)
Stealing someone\’s identity is big business for hackers. There are mounds and mounds of PII available on the dark web for sale by hackers. The dark web is an invisible Internet available to those who use a special browser called Tor.
In general, personally identifiable information is as follows: name, social security number, date and place of birth, mother\’s maiden name, credit card numbers, bank account information, and other information tied to you. You must protect this information as if your life depended on it.
TIP – Never share your PII over text, email, or any means of communication that is not secured and encrypted.
Recently, I was working with a new doctor and his assistant sent me paperwork over email. I told her that I will only submit this paperwork in person. I will never put my credit card information on a form. I ask them to call me for that information or I show up in person to provide that information. You are better safe than sorry. As I mentioned above, I have lost my identity, accounts, and credit card information over the last 5 years until I got militant about it.
I have friends who tell me that I am just a small fish in a big sea. They have nothing to worry about. It burns me up when they say that. I am telling everyone to assume they have been hacked. Just open the news and you will see a data breach. They are almost happening daily now. There are tools out there that can help you protect your identity.
#2 Think security first
You need to change your mindset. You must think about security first. Any time you are communicating over the phone, internet, texts, Facebook, Twitter, etc, you need to think about what you are saying and posting. I am not active in social media like I used to be because I am paranoid, to be honest, to be hacked again.
I still have social media accounts and use them sparingly. You should never provide your location on social media. You should limit the pictures and comments about your family. The more information you give out the easier time the hacker will have in hacking you. Also, there are ads that come up asking you to post something about yourself or your family….never give up any of your PII.
TIP – Think security first and limit your PII exposure over the phone, text, email, or social media.
#3 Protect my digital data
Look on all of your devices – computer, phone, tablet, etc. You will be surprised by the amount of PII you have stored in your physical and online storage.
TIP – Always encrypt your physical and online storage whenever possible.
Windows provides a way for you to encrypt your hard drive today using BitLocker. Do it! The time you spend in doing this will save you a lot of headaches in the future when you get hacked. You noticed I said WHEN not IF. Also, your cell phones typically encrypt your data today automatically but don\’t think you are 100% safe because you are not. This is protecting your data at rest.
Also, you need to consider protecting your data in motion meaning that you are transmitting data over the Internet every day. Normally that is not encrypted.
TIP – Invest in a VPN Software that will encrypt all your data that is transmitted over the Internet. This is a MUST have!
#4 Protect my access to apps
How safe do you believe your apps are? What if I told you they are not as safe as you think they are? Apps have bugs and ways for hackers to penetrate a vulnerable app which can provide elevated access to your computers and mobile devices. Nothing is safe from hackers except a computer that is disconnected from the Internet.
TIP – Always use two-factor authentication on all your apps such as email, online banking, social media, and other apps that allow you do this. Two-factor authentication is a standard protocol for most organizations today.
#5 Protect my computers
In the previous sections, I talked about how to protect yourself from hackers stealing your identity. To make sure you are better protected, you must protect all your computers to try to prevent hackers from stealing your personal information.
TIP – Install Antivirus software. Viruses can create havoc on your computer. Hackers can lurk on your computer without your knowledge through viruses, worms, and malware.
TIP – Enable the host firewall in Windows. This will protect your computer from being attacked unknowingly. No firewall is like leaving your doors and windows unlocked. A burglar uses those entry points to steal your stuff.
#6 Protect my home network
Homeowners need to make sure their connection to their internet service provider is protected. Most homes are using WIFI wireless connections today. That must be protected.
TIP – Make sure your wireless router is enabled for security so all data transmitted in your home is encrypted. Make sure to update the firmware on your wireless router periodically so you continue to stay protected.
Protecting your identity is not a passive activity anymore. You must be active, diligent, and a bit paranoid. Always, think security first. Always think before you act. Don\’t freely give your PII to anyone you do not know. Protect yourself and your family from being a victim. It is in your hands. I was only able to scratch the surface here. There is a lot more to protect yourself and I will explore those topics in future posts.
If you have any questions, let chat in the comments. I will do my best to help.