Updated Post: Like it or not, your personal information increasingly lives on the Internet. Whether its work related or out of convenience or social enjoyment, information once regarded as private now has the potential of being very public. This new reality comes with the caveat that your information and even identity, can easily be stolen. Be it health records, online financial accounts, or even entire online businesses, many have become victims of hackers and identity thieves. You may not even know you are at risk until it is all too late. Are you protecting yourself and others from information thieves? Now might be the perfect time to take a closer look at some of these occurrences of online violations and what you can do to prevent them.
Your Past Can Come Back To Haunt You
First, keep in mind the most vulnerable victims-the oldest and youngest of the population, and those who are deceased. Take for example Ancestry.com, a company who offers customers various ways to look at and analyze family history. Who’s not curious about their roots and family story? Sites like Ancestry can help families answer unsolved questions and put missing puzzle pieces together. Digital family records can even serve as great educational tools within the classroom. Ancestry and other like sites, offer records services that even incorporate DNA, helping many to understand the complexities of their ethnicities like never before. That said, Ancestry.com, fell victim to individuals pining for information beyond their own gene code. According to this article on WSBTV, at least three individuals gleaned publicly posted social security numbers from records in the system from deceased individuals.
Information Thieves Can Cost You a Lot of Money
Online violators are expensive! According to this CNN Money article, several criminals stole tax refunds affecting millions of individuals awaiting their financial returns. Aside from that, millions had private financial information stolen when big time security breaches occurred at Home Depot, Target, and Michael’s. According to this NJ.com article, hackers may have stolen over 160 million credit and debit card numbers in the largest U.S. scheme of its kind. This affects all types of shoppers, including teachers looking for next year’s supplies and even students looking for needed items.
Not For Your Eyes Only
Over the past few years, other pieces of personal information have been stolen from children including photos from social media sites. Take this creepy article from Fast Company, in which thieves stole baby photos for “role-playing” purposes. By the time some of the victims’ families noticed what was happening, it was hard to fully grasp the extent of the problem.
In a truly horrendous tale, a woman’s family photos were stolen by a scammer who claimed her son had cancer and needed funds. Images were reposted onto other sites without the victims’ knowledge, and without anyone thinking they weren’t legit. Then, tragically, the scammer’s story took a turn when “Warrior Eli’s” mother suddenly passed away in an auto accident. The story went viral and so did speculation that the story was actually entirely false. People felt rightfully violated when they learned they donated money to a fake cause. To read about the tragic saga click here. What do these stories tell us about our future? How can we teach our kids and students to protect their own identities in a world constantly threatened by identity theft? Here are some things to consider.
Self Defense Tips
1. You don’t need to be honest everywhere. Vary, omit, or delete personal information on multiple sites where it is not legally binding, not mandatory or if the pages are unsecured.
3. Consider using pre-paid cards for online transactions.
4. Limit pictures of minors, along with the details of their birthdays, or birth stats, or information about holidays, vacations, whereabouts and personal detail. The more you share, the easier it is for thieves to get you. Here is a list of 10 things you should never post online.
5. Safeguard your physical items at all times wherever you are, even discount cards from retailers carry your personal information and can be accessed by a thief with the know how. Did you know thieves can sometimes scan your credit card even if it’s in your pocket? Learn how they do it and how to protect yourself in this article from Lifehacker.
6. You DON’T always have to include your social security number on documents, including health forms. Read more here.
7. Consider two-step authentication on all accounts, according to this Gizmodo article. This acts as an additional level of protection to prevent hackers from taking over entire online social media accounts.
8. If you have the misfortune of being hacked on one of your social media platforms, a simple call unfortunately doesn’t always offer an immediate stoppage of the offense. Some hackers even demand money and make threats against individuals and their families, until they’re paid or before they’re caught. This is when you may need to reach out law enforcement. Contact the FBI and other cyber crimes units if you are in the middle of a hack. Or go to this link to protect yourself.
9. Were you among the millions of Americans who trusted Equifax to safeguard their credit data? Finally it appears justice may be close at hands. Read about it here. However, the damage is done. Sophisticated attacks on financial institutions are now commonplace, but you are not powerless. Bankrate has created a great guide on Freezing Credit and what to do after. Check it out here.
10. Consider identity protection from sites like Lifelock, ID Guard, or other programs. Follow these tips from the IRS. For education purposes in the classroom, check out these tips from PBS about what to teach your students. Some schools now even host speakers that discuss cyber-bullying, identity protection, and general online safety. Consider having one visit your school next year.
Teachers, are you actively safeguarding your information? Have you ever been violated by a hacker or worried that young people’s lives were at risk because of one? Share your comments with TeacherCents.
Melissa Heule, Freelance Writer