When I was in grade school I use to hear adults say, “Everything I know I learned in kindergarten.” Today I would be asking them what sort of things they learned about identity theft in kindergarten. I believe what my elders were truly saying is this, life is simple and if you apply some of the basic principles you learned in kindergarten, you will make it through anything that comes your way.
Identity theft is not new. Technology has made it easier for certain types of identity theft activities. Regardless of the technology changes, some of the basic principles we learned long ago still apply:
- Clean up your own mess.
- Take a nap every afternoon.
- Don't take things that aren't yours.
- Wash your hands before you eat.
- Don’t talk to strangers.
- Flush when you are done.
Let’s take a look at how these simple kindergarten principles can be applied to protecting ourselves from identity theft.
Clean Up Your Own Mess
One of the best ways to prevent identity theft is as easy as cleaning up your own mess. Depending on how you grew up, your parents likely told you on more than one occasion to clean your room. Keeping your room in order was one way your parents trained you to be organized.
Being organized with your finances will help you know when your bills are to be expected and from what companies. It also helps you to know who to call in the event that an invoice doesn’t arrive. When you are organized you make it more difficult for criminals to get very far when they make an attempt to take your identity.
Here are some simple things you can do to be more organized:
- Balance your checkbook every month. Although now days this can be done daily, know where your money has been spent and verify that your checks or debit card transactions have cleared.
- Keep a list of your financial institutions, account numbers, and billing periods. These can be handy in the event that someone does try to use your accounts.
- If you keep your financial information electronically, purchase a flash drive and store confidential information on it. Remember to remove it from the computer when you don’t need it. This will minimize access to your information by hackers or malware.
- Always keep a periodic back up copy of your information in a separate place.
Take a Nap Every Afternoon
I have heard it said that we all need a nap to help us stay healthy and live balanced lives. One of the ways you can apply this principle is to give your computer a nap. Shutting down your computer at the end of the day makes it more difficult for hackers to obtain the information on your computer. Computers that are always on are prime targets. Not only will you help keep your computer safe, you will also save a few dollars on your electric bill.
Don’t Take Things That Aren’t Yours
This principle is a bit harder to apply to protecting yourself from identity theft. But apparently the criminals didn’t learn this when they were in kindergarten or they wouldn’t be stealing in the first place.
So my best suggestion is to beware what you copy on a copy machine. Many people don’t realize that copy machines today are constantly taking images of your confidential documents. Yes, they give you a copy in return, but that image still exists on the hard drive of that copier. When that copier is retired, you risk having your personal information being handed over freely to someone that might use it for their own gain and they might not even be in this country. If you are serious about protecting your personal information, talk to your local IT staff and ask them how they protect confidential data stored on the copier when the copier is retired.
Wash Your Hands Before You Eat
Again we return to yet another principle that is so basic yet it can help us so much. Washing our hands before we use a computer, sign a credit card receipt, or even before we eat has little value in protecting us from identity theft. But have you thought about keeping your computer clean so that when you perform an electronic transaction over the Internet that you won’t be compromising your information.
Installing an antivirus application on your computer when you first get it is like washing your hands. If the antivirus software is not kept up to date it is like washing your hands in dirty water and then using a dirty towel to dry with. Make sure your computer has been clean from the start. If you find that you had a virus on the computer at any time, consult with your local IT support person and make sure the computer was reloaded from scratch and protected with an antivirus program before connecting to the Internet for the first time.
Don’t Talk To Strangers
You might have learned this at home before you went to kindergarten. But nonetheless this is a principle that can save not just your money but also your life. The Internet is a ramped with people wanting to use your relationship so the can steal your personal information for their own use.
Social networking sites are places you need to be on your guard. Only provide information to your friends and family on social network sites that you wouldn’t mind publishing in the local or national news. Verify a person is who they say they are before allowing them into your group.
Did Microsoft or Apple really call you about your computer issue? Don't be fooled for a moment. These companies will not call you unless you called them first. So when that so called Microsoft support person asks to let you on your computer for remote support, hang up the phone and restart your computer.
Flush When You Are Done
This might seem like a strange analogy but often personal information is left on both private and public computers that can be captured without your knowledge. Web sites utilize temporary information stored on your local computer. This information might be used to identify when you last visited, who you are, or what part of the country to live in.
Here are several good flushing practices to follow that will help protect your identity.
- Never allow your computer to remember your login ID and password. This type of information can be easily snatched from your computer by accidently visiting a rogue web site.
- When visiting sites that require a password, close all open browser windows and open a new browser connection. Then use a favorite link to go directly to the site.
- After using a financial site, always close the browser window before going to another site.