What is Internet Identity Theft?

Identity theft is a serious crime that can destroy the financial reputation of a victim and lead to serious breaches of personal privacy. Much as a person locks his or her car to keep it from getting stolen, Internet users must try to lock their their computers to keep the valuable personal information inside from being exploited or stolen. Internet identity theft is a large problem in the 21st century, as thieves and hackers use increasingly sophisticated tactics to gain access to personal data.

Though people may not realize it, the age of the Internet means that a great deal of personal information is kept on a computer. Any person who buys an MP3 or signs up for online banking, uses a social networking site, or even opens an email account places personal data online. To protect against all possible threats of Internet identity theft is difficult, requiring constant vigilance and computer literacy.

One of the most common ways to become exposed to Internet identity theft is through phishing. Phishers send out emails that look as if they are sent by a reputable and well-known organization, such as the government, a personal bank, or credit card company. These emails contain links that will transport the user to the main website to enter personal data under the threat that an account needs to be updates or consequences will follow. Although the websites may look genuine, clicking the email link will allow a virus to install on the computer and gain access to personal data, including that entered into the fake website.

A key to avoiding phishing schemes is to avoid clicking on the link in the email. If unsure whether the mail is for real or not, type out the address of the link by hand rather than clicking the link. Remember that no reputable organization will require personal information by email. If the email claims to be from a bank or company the user has accounts with, call the company to confirm that the email is not a phishing attempt.

Social networking sites are extremely popular, but the unwary user can leave him or herself vulnerable to Internet identity theft by posting too much personal information. Do not include information such as address, phone number, or anything that could lead a thief to guess a password. If possible, check the security settings of the website and set the page so that only user-accepted friends and contacts can view photos and any information. Do not accept contacts that are unfamiliar.

Internet identity theft can also easily occur on public computers. If a person does not sign out completely, any purchases or saved passwords can be seen and used by the next user. Public, unsecured wireless connections also make users vulnerable to Internet identity theft, as spy programs can easily tap into unprotected connections and view the user’s actions.
To help identify spying viruses that help gain information for Internet identity fraud, download or purchase a well-reviewed anti-virus program and run it regularly. If possible, set it to run each time the computer starts up. A good thief needs only a few minutes to lift information off a computer through a virus, so don’t give him or her the chance.