Identity Theft and Online Security

A thief accessing a computer.

Private investigators are often called upon to investigate cases of identity theft, along with stolen personal or financial information. In modern times, their access to digital databases of personal and financial investigation helps them considerably in solving such cases. That being said, the best way to deal with incidents of the theft of personal information is to prevent them from happening in the first place: as with a deadly pathogen, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Living in Boston?
It is entirely appropriate to contact a private investigator in Boston the event of a theft of your personal or financial information. There are official sources of information and assistance to which you absolutely ought to turn first; however, private investigators can carry on their own case work concurrently with any official investigation. There are private investigative firms which are accessible online, which work across the United States, which specialize in dealing with cases of identity theft and the theft of financial information; as with most professions which offer such a degree of specialization, such specialized firms have a high success rate and are authoritative sources of information on the subject matter.

Before We Begin…

If you believe that you or somebody you know has been the victim of identity theft, visit identitytheft.gov today. This is a secure government website set up by the FTC for the purpose of receiving reports of identity theft, for the sake of tracking down and prosecuting such cases. It is free to use, and extensively explained through easy to understand guidelines: the website itself will tell you where to go, and what to fill out. Don’t let someone else get away with stealing your identity; visit today, and get started with the process of protecting yourself from further damage.

Now that that’s out of the way, we can move on.

Four Key Steps to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft… in Advance

There are a lot of things you can do to help protect yourself from identity theft. Some of these are common sense ideas, while others might take a little bit of research. There are many viable sources of information available online, however, such as through the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Information website. The following examples come highly recommended, as four of the most important and widely-discussed steps you can take to keep your information safe – particularly while browsing the internet, or shopping online.

Dispose of computers, other electronic devices, and sensitive information safely.
Always shred documents with sensitive information, such as your social security number, account passwords, or financial information. Cross-shredders shred documents both vertically and horizontally, producing a confetti that no casual snooper is going to be able to reassemble into anything resembling intelligible information. Never throw away hard documentation with intact, legible personal information still on it. In the case of computers, laptops, and mobile devices, follow manufacturer’s guidelines for permanently deleting any personal information from the device before discarding it. You may have to call the manufacturer by phone, or visit their website online to find the most efficient and effective way of doing this, or it may be present in your owner’s manual. If the option of taking such devices directly to a local electronics recycling center is available, you should do so; there might even be a small amount of compensation involved. Otherwise, delete all personal information permanently, finishing with a complete reformat of your hard drive. Exposure to magnets is a good additional way to ensure that no casual effort to recover data from your discarded devices will ever be successful.

Don’t underestimate the vulnerability of hard copies.
Mail theft is still a leading source of identity theft today, and with the current emphasis on digital security it is one that many people often overlook. If you have outgoing mail, it is always advisable to take it to the post office or to a secure mailbox, rather than leaving it in your personal mailbox at home. Always remove incoming mail from your mailbox as soon as you can; if you are going on vacation, even for a couple of days, have a hold put on your mail so it doesn’t accumulate while you are gone. It is generally not advised, despite the prevalence of such activity, to allow someone other than yourself to collect your mail for you – even if they are housesitting, petsitting, or otherwise have legitimate access to your property… and speaking of which: do not leave computers or other devices which you use to access the internet in your house for others to use during any sort of extended vacation or other trip. Take them with you, and ask your housesitter to use their own devices.

Don’t overshare on social media networks, and never give out your passwords.
People compulsively treat their social media accounts as private journals, but much of the information presented there is visible to the world – even despite the (often nebulous and overly complicated) security measures that said networks have in place. Something you’ve shared with a trusted friend might be visible to a third party if their own account isn’t protected in the same way that yours is. Additionally, never share your password to any account, be it a bank account, a gaming account, or a social media account, with anyone. You never know who might login at a friend’s house, or follow them in using a public computer after they forgot to log out of it.

Protect your social security number.
Many legitimate businesses will ask you for your social security number for a variety of reasons. Some may be legally obligated to do so. Before disclosing your social security number to anybody, ask to speak to someone in charge. Make sure that you understand what safeguards they have in place for the protection of clients’ or customers’ personal information… and what their record is for data security. Ultimately, it is your choice as to whether or not you give this information over, but there is no harm in thoroughly vetting anybody who is asking you to entrust them with it.