(TNS) — Ever get an email from some foreign dignitary offering riches? Or a call about inflated tax refund claims? What about old-fashioned paper mail suggesting that you've won the lottery? If you responded yes to any of these questions, you're not alone — as more and more people are becoming targets of identify theft schemes such as these.
"There's so many scams that are out there," said Chuck Clanahan, certified protection professional with the Department of Kansas Homeland Security. "The hard part of it is trying to keep up with the bad guys. I don't think anybody is immune."
Proving his point, Clanahan — who led a seminar on identity theft in Newton recently — admitted his own personal information has been compromised on more than one occasion.
As online safety continues to be encroached upon (via identity theft, hackers, phishing, spyware, etc.), the observance of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month in October becomes more relevant each year — with several area organizations joining Clanahan in addressing the topic this month.
In the current digital age, personal data is more readily available online than ever and threats of identify theft continue to multiply through the growing availability of various technological devices. Even for individuals who remain "unplugged" for the most part, it is not a walk in the park, as information may still exist digitally.
"Even those people who don't pay their bills online, don't think they have an online presence — they don't have social media, apps and things — they do have an online presence," said Newton Public Library IT Supervisor Nathan Carr. "Their addresses are available online and things like that. It's just good to know what is out there."
Carr addressed protecting one's online persona in October's Monthly Tech Time at the library, and noted social media can be a big aspect of that as well. While there are certain safeguards protecting some of your information (i.e. medical records), how much you share about your personal life on Facebook, Twitter, etc., could increase the risk of that information being jeopardized.
Given the number of attempts to steal personal information daily, having strong anti-virus programs and making sure software is up-to-date are good places to start in preventing your information from coming under attack, as well as securely destroying anything (bills, health records, etc.) that may include even part of your personal information.
"The name of the game is just being really proactive," Clanahan said.
Staying abreast of your financial situation can also help prevent against identity theft, from taking advantage of the free credit reports provided annually by the three major credit companies to knowing your personal bank accounts inside and out.
While the recent Equifax breach — impacting nearly 150 million people — has thrown a wrench into the reliability of at least one of the credit reports, Midland National Bank Network Systems Officer Phillip J. Regier reiterated just how crucial it can be for individuals to be aware of their personal financial standings.
"It's important that customers keep an eye on their accounts, review their statements regularly and report any suspicious account activity back to the bank as soon as they can," Regier said.
One demographic particularly at risk is the elderly, as Clanahan called scams against them an "epidemic," with threats including callers impersonating their own grandchildren. While trusting senior citizens need to be on alert, Clanahan noted the entire populous is open to such threats.
Anti-virus programs and other measures can help, but they also only protect against the known threats, as Clanahan pointed out. Vigilance remains key when sharing information online or elsewhere and Clanahan listed the following tips for helping to recognize identity theft.
Mistakes in your accounts. Regular bills go missing. Receiving calls from debt collectors for debt that isn't yours. Notice from the IRS, VA, OPM, etc.
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