MONEY

Identity theft hits the head of the Fed

Apparently Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has more to worry about than interest rates and financial bailouts: he and his wife were recently the victims of identity theft after Anna Bernanke’s purse, containing credit cards and a family checkbook, was snatched from the back of a chair in a D.C. Starbucks.

Though it’s not every day a Fed chief finds himself the victim of such a low and petty financial crime, the case was fairly typical in one regard: the information stolen was stolen not in cyberspace but in the real world. According to a recent survey by the Identity Theft Resource Center, only about 9 percent of victims have their information snatched through phishing scams and other internet skullduggery; another 13 percent lose their info through computer database breaches.

The rest are victimized in relatively old-fashioned ways: by people stealing wallets or purses or burglarizing homes or cars; rifling through their mail or garbage; poking through their desk at work. Chillingly, some 40 percent of the time the info isn’t stolen by some nefarious stranger but by someone close to the victim — a relative, neighbor, co-worker, roommate or “friend.” (You can see the group’s press release, or download a copy of the whole report, here.)

Does that mean you should stop worrying so much about hackers, and worry more about your skeezy uncle? Well, no. While you definitely should try to protect your info from the prying eyes of disreputable relatives and perpetually broke roommates, hackers are nothing to sneeze at. Indeed, they’re getting more sophisticated — and more businesslike — by the day.

As hacker-turned-journalist Kevin Poulsen put it in a recent article in Wired, the future of hacking is “professional, smart, and above-all well-funded. In the old days, hackers were mostly kids and college-age acolytes sowing their wild oats before joining the establishment. Today, the best hackers have the skill and discipline of the best legitimate programmers and security gurus. … Money is the catalyst for this change: Computer criminals are scooping in millions through various scams and attacks.”

While there’s nothing you can do to prevent large-scale database breeches — of the sort these recently arrested hackers were allegedly involved in — there are lots of things you can do to make yourself safer online or off.

Here are some useful resources:

Protect yourself from Identity Theft
Keep yourself safe from scams while searching for a job
Thwart ID Thieves
Protect your information online
The FCC on ID theft

These sites will give you some basic strategies that can make a big difference. Do you need to go further and subscribe to some fancy and expensive ID theft protection service? Probably not. If you’re tempted to, read this article first. Prudence will do you far more good than panic.

How much do you worry about ID theft and what, if anything have you done to prevent it?

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