Most of us in our “instant gratification isn’t enough” society assume that the potential fallout from transmitting sensitive information via text, fax or email is outweighed by the convenience of getting something where it needs to be fast. After all, becoming the victim of an identity-related crime isn’t the end of the world, right?
While it’s not technically the end of the world, you may find yourself wishing for it. There is nothing quite like that maddening feeling you get while reading a notice from a collection agency informing you that you owe money for goods or services that you never purchased.
The next order of business is where people tend to really lose it: Getting a credit report riddled with identity theft-related errors. If you are lucky, whoever used your information to make the purchases that eventually hit your mailbox in the form of a collection notice only perpetrated that one incursion on your financial reality. That said, look closely at your credit report(s) because indices of identity-related fraud can be similar to spotting a cockroach — for every one you see, there may be more you don’t.
Things You Should Not Send
1. Social Security number. This is the skeleton key to your financial life. It can be used to open accounts, steal tax refunds and commit many other kinds of fraud.
2. Your credit card information. There is too much malware out there for this to be a safe practice. Don’t send this information via email or any other electronic means that is not secure (look for https:// and the Padlock on websites before hitting submit).
3. A copy of your driver’s license. Remember, fraudsters are not big on in-person transactions, but they are very good at talking their way around security protocols. If they have your Social Security number already (this can often be found online through shady websites), and they have enough other pieces of your personal information to convince you they are an official organization, they can dupe you into sending your photo ID — or steal it from someplace you do business — they can do a lot of damage.
4. Your PIN codes or passwords. These should never be shared, period, but if you are sharing that information in a pinch to someone close to you, do it on the phone . Malware is too prevalent to risk communicating that information electronically.
While all of this may sound like common sense, the myriad mistakes people make on a daily basis is beyond the ken of understanding. The key to staying safe is staying vigilant. Always practice the Three Ms: Minimize your exposure, monitor your accounts and manage the damage the minute you discover a problem.
While there is no preventing identity-related crime, you can avoid becoming an unwitting volunteer.