When I embarked on my scholastic journey in Information Technology and Information Systems, I knew very little regarding data processing. Instantly, I imagined myself as one of those high tech heroes from the movies that have all of this elevated knowledge regarding hacking and other brilliant computer scientific know how. After a couple of years of college, I began to realize that this new wave of workforce was emerging into the field of information technology (emphasis on the term: information). Although the study and practice of information technology is not computer science in terms of what NASA and Cal Tech engage, it is the science of data processing in a business context or environment. What this means is that information is an asset and in today's times it is the most valuable asset an organization can have.
Many CEOs would probably agree that Information is a volume asset, which means for every business that intends to remain in business needs a data processing system to manage these assets known as information. Because of this business need, the birth of other technologies occurred in parallel to gain more value out of the data processing system: ecommerce (which of course is a child of the Internet). This gave consumers the convenience to engage in transactions from the comfort of their home or office through electronic transactions in commerce. On the other side of the web (the business), this new style of commerce expedited the process of data mining and procuring instant customer lists and marketing and research data. These digital relationships between consumers and on-line retailers caused the growth of a company's informational assets to grow exponentially.
In using this electronic commerce, tangible items of identification (address, social security number, credit card and account numbers) have become increasingly more powerful and sought after by the digital criminal. This information has become the consumer's Internet "fingerprint" or identity. Like any other valuable possession, these items of identity are no exception when it comes to theft worthy assets. This trend of crime grew along with the popularity of the Internet and ecommerce. In the late 90's and early turn of the century, the Federal Trade Commission reported the number of identity theft complaints rose from 230,628 in the year 2000, to 1,330,426 in 2009 (as reported in the Sentinel annual report of 2009).
There are several steps one can take to protect themselves from identity theft:
- Your social security card or number being the "holy grail" of all identity components, should be hidden into deep chambers under lock and key. If you do no have the monetary resources to go this far then the alternative is simply to keep this document at home in a fireproof safe with other important documents. One of the few times one needs to bear their social security card, is to prove the validity of their citizenship to become employed in the United States. This is accomplished by the employee showing their social security card along with a valid secondary source of identification on the Federal I9 form. The alternative on the Federal I9 only requires one document to prove the very same fact: a passport. Many Americans savvy with regard to identity theft have resolved to obtaining a passport and using it as a primary source of identification as opposed to a driver's license and or social security card. Reason being is that a passport establishes citizenship because you have to have a valid Government Issued photo ID and a valid Birth Certificate or Naturalization Certificate to obtain it. It also requires a photo which makes a passport your "catch all" when it comes to proving your identity and citizenship.
- Keep your social security number confidential by only using it on forms when necessary and avoid using it to prove up your identity to creditors when conducting business over the phone. Creditors will allow you to establish a password to prove identity or alternatively give your current address or some other proprietary information that establishes your identity (i.e. a purchase you have made on the account in the past 3 months). As a last resort, you can use only the last 4 of your social security number to identify yourself if the creditor will allow it.
- Destroy documents no longer need that contain your social security number or any important account numbers. Shred any documents that have run the course of their necessity before discarding them into the trash. One of the most common low-tech arenas of identity theft is going through a victims garbage or what some call dumpster diving.
Ecommerce transactions (i.e. Internet purchases) are apparently the most-likely transactions to expose your identity and financial instruments such as your credit card and or checking account. What some experts suggest is to establish an account with a small balance strictly for on-line purchases. With this in place the only number you are placing out into the stream of commerce is an account with a balance that you are hedging to lose. The not-so-smart alternative is using a credit card on the Internet that has a high credit limit or a debit card that is linked to your primary finances of which you rely on for bills and groceries.
The more popular solution that has emerged in the past couple of years are identity protection products. These products offer guaranteed limits on dollar amounts for reimbursement of costs associated with restoring your identity should it ever be stolen and used. Some of these services will even take steps to assign a resource to assist you through the process of restoring your identity of which may include hiring an attorney to represent you and handle the process for you. They also monitor your identity through all of the credit reporting bureaus and other national databases in the event any unknown events involving your identity turn up on the global radar. The costs of these services are reasonable as well.
From my own experience in on-line and Internet security associated with protecting your identity is that there is truly no one solution to this swiftly emerging area of crime and victimization. Best practices would be to implement the combination of several or all of these tactics to assure that your identity is well protected.