Online Identity Theft Nearly Cost Me USD6,000 in Fines and Lawyers Fees

You hear it all the time — always be wary of divulging your personal information to other people, especially strangers. For me, I had a taste of what it was like to have my personal information compromised because of my own negligence. A couple of years ago, I received a letter in my mailbox from a lawyer’s firm representing one of the local mobile service providers stating that I had 2 month’s worth of overdue bills amounting to nearly USD6,000.

I was in utter disbelief since I was using a different mobile service provider altogether and had no idea as to how I came to be a registered user. When I contacted the mobile network operator, I was told that I had supplied them with sufficient personal information for them to proceed with registering my name as a user and that I was expected to show up in court and would be subjected to a hefty fine should I fail to do so. After a lot of explaining from my side, I was advised to make a police report for submission.

I tried tracing back my actions to find out how I landed myself in such a predicament and then it came to me! I had been an active user on an online platform for part time job seekers as I was a university student at the time, in search for some extra cash. Some of the job posters made it a rule for job seekers to provide personal information i.e. full name, date of birth, residential address, and even identification card number before considering an application. I recalled one person in particular who had requested for a scanned copy of my I.D., claiming that it was required for the purpose of verifying my identity and I willingly obliged without thinking twice. The guy didn’t even respond afterwards and I didn’t think much of it at the time but now it makes a lot of sense. The information he had obtained was enough to do a whole lot of damage.

Cyber criminals are no different from burglars and thieves; employing various methods to steal your personal information and money. You would never knowingly hand over the key to your home to a stranger, would you? Its pretty much the same rule with preventing fraud and online identity theft. Don’t make it any easier for them. Here are a few simple tips to help protect yourself online:

  1. Avoid sending your personal information via email or IM as it allows anyone to intercept and read your information
  2. Be wary of what you post online and restrict who can access it especially what you share on social media networks such as Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc… These mediums are a great way to connect with your friends but refrain from giving out certain details such as your full name or date of birth as it can be used to steal your identity
  3. Never open files, click on links in emails or download unknown programs unless you trust the sender since many phishing scams employ these techniques as a means of stealing your identity
  4. Always use one credit card when making online purchases to make it easier for you to monitor your statements for any suspicious activity
  5. Ensure that your web browser is updated regularly so that you have the latest security features installed to keep you safe from new and existing online threats
  6. Use a reliable Virtual Private Network – VPN for added security so that your network data is encrypted and secured as it travels across the internet keeping all information safe from the attacker’s eyes
  7. Do not store sensitive information such as credit card numbers and passwords on your computer and always run a utility program to clean out your hard drive before getting rid of an old computer
  8. Create strong passwords which include a mix of upper and lower case letters, numbers and characters. Do not allow a login screen to save your password and always be sure to log off every time you leave a secured site to disallow unauthorised users from finding their way into your accounts

I learned the importance of being proactive in protecting my personal information online the hard way. If I had been more vigilant of what I shared online, I could have definitely avoided being a victim of online identity fraud. It can take months and even years, to repair the damage if your name and credit are compromised by an identity thief. There are even cases where people have been  arrested for crimes that they didn’t even commit. I can count myself lucky that it didn’t come to that.

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