The only reason you have not yet been the victim of an identity-related crime (and that includes credit card fraud) is that no one practiced in the art has had the opportunity to separate you from your available credit, health care, or other bankable soft assets—yet.
The figures on data compromises vary, but Risk Based Security estimates that just last year more than 4.2 billion sensitive records were compromised—information that opens the door to all kinds of identity-related malfeasance, including account takeover, credit draining, theft of health care, and even the commission of a crime in the victim’s name.
To put it bluntly, your chances of avoiding fraud are right up there with winning it big at a bingo convention in Florida—slim to none.
Hopefully this is not news to you. If it is, read on for tips on how to protect yourself against identity theft.
Unless you’ve been pulling double shifts in a pyramid guarding one of the lesser-known pharaohs, you already know the basics about protecting yourself against the threat of ID theft. You never answer the phone by saying “Yes,” no matter what the interlocutor says (thieves steal voiceprints to authenticate your accounts and take them over), you use two-factor authentication whenever it’s offered, and your long-and-strong passwords are never used to access more than one account.
But here’s a factor you may not be protecting yourself against: the various ways you are vulnerable to identity theft at home.
The Identity Theft Resource Center has provided a comprehensive guide for navigating the problem of familial identity theft—that is, when a friend or a family member steals your identity.
While no one can be completely protected from identity theft, there are things you can do to safeguard yourself against this particular approach. First, you can practice the three Ms that I first introduced in my book, “Swiped: How to Protect Yourself in a World Full of Scammers, Phishers, and Identity Thieves.”
Regardless of your income and regardless of your likeability, someone you know is probably willing and able to steal your identity. To stave off that eventuality, you need to practice the first M: Minimize your exposure at home.
Consider what kind of personally identifiable information (PII) lives with you in your home—everything from tax returns to password cheat sheets. Now think about where these things are stored.
If you are like most people, your tax returns are at best kept in a locked filing cabinet with a key hidden in a not-too-paranoid spot nearby. For still more people, the above security measure has more in common with the protections at Fort Knox than the protections they’ve put in place themselves. Maybe it’s time to rethink that cardboard box.
The individuals who are regularly in and out of your house, and those who live in your house, are in a position to know what you have, where you have it, and the most opportune moments to steal it. It may be only a matter of time before they use that barely hidden key, or simply take that cardboard box.
Who are we talking about here? Literally anyone who can get in your house. And don’t think for a moment it matters if you’re at home, because the most sticky-fingered among us can rob us blind on a trip to the bathroom.
Our homes are not perfect sanctuaries, as much as we would like to think they are. Repair people come through, utility meters need to be read, we hire babysitters and housekeepers, friends and relatives come by to visit: all of them are potential ID thieves.
There are a variety of things you can do to safeguard your PII in your home and minimize your attackable surface.
At the end of the day, you are the only one with access to the data points needed to figure out precisely how vulnerable you are to identity theft. If you think like a thief, you will be pointed in the right direction.