The Internet offers consumers convenient ways to shop, bank and communicate. But, it also offers con artists new opportunities to quickly and secretly obtain Social Security or credit card numbers, account passwords and other personal information that can be used for fraudulent purposes. How can you protect yourself from ID theft online?
Be suspicious of offers on Web sites or in e-mails that seem too good to be true, such as exceptionally high interest rates for deposits or ridiculously low interest rates on credit cards. They're likely to be scams attempting to get your existing account numbers or other personal information.
Before responding to an Internet offer, determine if the business is a legitimate company or financial institution. "When you go into a store or office it's fairly easy to know if you're dealing with a legitimate company, but on the Internet it's much more difficult to determine who you're dealing with," says Cynthia Bonnette, a bank technology specialist with the FDIC in Washington. If you don't have personal references for the site, contact a federal or state consumer protection agency or your local Better Business Bureau (BBB). To be sure a Web site belongs to a legitimate companyand not to con artistsconsider calling the company using a number from the phone book, a government agency or some other trusted source, not the one provided on the Web site (in case the site is a scam). Many Web sites also display seals showing they've been certified for reliability or privacy by an independent organization, such as the BBB (www.bbbonline.org), the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (www.cpawebtrust.org) or TRUSTe (www.truste.org), a group dedicated to addressing consumer concerns about online privacy.
Keep your passwords and "PINs" (Personal Identification Numbers) confidential and secure. Avoid passwords and PINs that will be easy for a thief to figure out. For example, don't use your name, street address or birth date. Also change your passwords periodically.