Identity theft via phishing, social media etc is on the rise. Here's what you can do to safeguard yourself from it.
By Hrushikesh Mehta
In recent times, credit has become increasingly important for achieving one’s life goals. As credit penetrates the Indian market, it will also bring with it issues that previously weren’t so prevalent in the Indian economy. Identity theft via phishing, social media etc is one such issue. In simple terms, identity theft is when someone forges your identity using personal information, such as name, address, telephone number, PAN card, Passport, Driver’s license, bank account details, or any other information that can be used to obtain credit in your name.
As more of us begin to use credit, we increasingly use documentation and post personal information online. What we don’t realize is that identity thieves are working meticulously to piece together seemingly harmless bits of information that help them assume our identity.
Some of the most common avenues for identity thieves to gain access to information are:
Know your customer (KYC) documents provided physically or uploaded online: The easiest way for identity thieves to obtain identity information is to obtain copies of your documents in physical or digital form.
Phishing: Phishing has been around since the advent of the internet and identity thieves can use this to trick unsuspecting individuals to disclose sensitive information. Phishing attempts will usually direct you to reward or coupon sites where you may be asked for personal information or creating an identity. Phishing can also be performed via telephone where the person could call you under the guise of being a representative of a bank or some other organization you trust.
Social media & consumer forums: Data you post to social media accounts and consumer forums is a goldmine of information for potential identity thieves. This can include check-ins, complaints that include personal information and scanned copies of sensitive documents like your identity proof or credit report.
Imagine what an unpleasant surprise it would be if you worked hard on your finances before applying for a loan for that dream home, your child’s education or a loved one’s medical treatment, only to find that you are ineligible for credit. Not because you were irresponsible with your finances, but because someone impersonated you to take a loan and then didn’t make the requisite payments. Missed payments on a credit report lower your credit score and are one of the primary reasons that most lenders reject loan applications.
What you can do to safeguard yourself from identity theft
While financial institutions work diligently to maximize data security and create stringent customer verification procedures, much of the onus of protecting ourselves from identity theft lies with us. A few simple habits could easily protect you from the threat of identity theft.
KYC Documents: Always self-attest your documents before submitting them to anyone. This would include signing, dating and stating the purpose for which the document was submitted (e.g. documents submitted for home loan application with XYZ Bank or documents submitted for foreign exchange from ABC Ltd).
Phishing: Beware of phishing emails that prompt you towards free subscriptions where you have to simply create a login ID and password. It is quite likely that you would use a common ID and password and this information could be used to hack into your personal accounts which usually contain sensitive information. Don’t open or respond to e-mails without verifying their source as hackers can use links to insert a virus, which could provide them access to your sensitive information. If someone has called you and you are uncertain of the identity of the caller, hang up and call back on a publicly provided helpline on the website of the service provider.
Social media and consumer forums: While we all complain about our experiences with brands on social media and consumer forums, it is not advisable to post any personal information on these sites. In particular, there have been instances where people scan and post their credit report on line. Credit reports contain all the necessary information for an identity thief to secure credit in your name and should never be made public.
Only do business with websites that have security measures in place: Before providing personal or payment information on a website, look for a URL that begins with “https” (not “http”) and the emblem of a lock on the page, typically next to the address bar.
Change your account passwords regularly: Consider changing your account passwords regularly and keep a list of them in a secure place. Passwords and PIN numbers should be a random mix of letters, numbers and special characters, which makes it harder for identity thieves to guess.
Regular monitoring of your credit report & score: Your credit score and report is provided by a credit bureau and contains an in-depth view of all credit lines in your name, including the types of credit, names of the lender, and a breakdown of your repayment history. Lenders generally look for a CIBIL Score of 750 and above when they review credit applications. Your CIBIL report is the easiest way to identify any incidence of identity theft because all the data is one place and updated frequently. Effective 1st January 2017, everyone is eligible to request a free annual credit report and score from the credit bureau websites. Additionally, subscribe to your CIBIL Score & Report to monitor your credit report on an ongoing basis. This will help you achieve 2 things:
1. That you are not already a victim of identity theft.
2. Monitoring serves as an early warning system of any irregular activity.
(The author is Vice President and Head, Direct to Consumer Interactive, TransUnion CIBIL)