Saturday, October 25, 2008

Be Aware of Thieves

"Black Wallet" courtesy of sritenou

A recent event has made me aware that we need to pay more attention to our wallets and purses. While much of the world is currently caught up in all the turmoil in the financial markets (and I don’t claim to have the “big” answers, at least not yet anyways) being distracted by this and other daily activities often leaves us and loved ones open to thieves.

Last weekend my mother-in law had been to the bank and took out a few hundred euros for shopping and some other monthly expenses. She promptly put the money in her purse and went to the supermarket that was in the same shopping center as her bank. She was shopping and left her purse in her shopping cart (to look at some produce I believe) and hadn’t been gone very long at all. When she got to the checkout and wanted to pay for her groceries, she noticed that her wallet was missing from her purse! She told me shortly afterwards that she thought someone must have watched her take the money out of her atm and followed her into the supermarket, but it didn’t have to be that dubious, it could have just been that her pursue sitting in the shopping cart was too tempting a target, not to get hit!

Looking at the event with hindsight we can see that there are a few things that my mother-in law might have done differently.

  • Do not let your purse or wallet out of your sight, while you’re in any public area
  • Do no keep a lot of money in your possession for longer periods of time than necessary
  • If you need to have a large sum of cash on you then try to limit how much you’re carrying
  • Decide if you really need to carry cash, maybe a credit card or even atm card would work and it would give you some added protection if there are problems with a purchase
  • Limit the number of credit cards that you carry in your possession, because this will limit the number of accounts that you need to contact companies about in the event that they were stolen
  • Limit the number of keepsakes that you carry in your purse or wallet, because credit cards, id cards, and so on can be replaced but all those lovely pictures of family and friends aren’t so easy to replace (if there isn’t another copy of them anyways). Some proud parents might keep pictures that their children drew or other things that are not so easy to replace
  • Know what is in you wallet or purse. When it is stolen, is really not the time to wonder if this credit card or that credit card was in it

Prepare for the loss of your wallet or purse by knowing what phone numbers to call to report your cards lost or stolen. You’ll also want to have the account numbers assessable so that you can report them, if you have a consolidate list, be sure to keep it in a safe place because this too is something that you don’t want to fall into the hands of the wrong people.

Losing you wallet or pursue can seem trivial compared to losing your identity. You hear more and more stories about peoples’ identities being stolen either because of some security breach with a company (i.e. a bank or governmental agency), someone getting a hold of a carbon copy of a credit card sales receipt, various online activities, and a variety of other ways. There are some things that you can do to try and prevent this.

  • If someone calls you asking for sensitive data, you don’t really know that the person on the other end of the phone is who they claim to be. It is best to provide sensitive information only when you made the call. If you call the help desk for a company, then you can have more assurance that you’re speaking to an authorized agent of that company than when you receive a call from someone claiming to be from that company. In any case, you’d ask a police officer to see their badge (not that most of us would know a real badge from a fake one anyways) why not ask for some kind of proof before giving our your information, this may deter people trying to get your sensitive information.
  • If you buy something in a store and a carbon copy is produced, always ask for your copy and any copies that aren’t required for the store. Many people have gotten accounts numbers from carbons!
  • Guard your social security number, account numbers, user ids, and passwords with your life. Sure you might need to give this information out from time to time, but why not ask if it is really necessary or if there is some other information that can be used instead.
  • Think about changing your security or challenge question from your mother’s maiden name. This is a default question used all over the place and probably not too hard for someone to find out.
  • Give some thought to your passwords. Most people have passwords that are easy to crack. Many people write the password on sticky notes that are at their computer, might as well keep a key to your house under the welcome mat!
  • Be on the lookout for hoax emails asking you to do strange things. Before you do them, you should verify that they’re credible. Many people have deleted key system files needed for their computers to operate correctly because of a bogus email.
  • Before you pass on any email to family, friends, and co-workers asking for people to do strange things, you should verify the authenticity. Many people give credibility to others that they know and are willing to do things just because they received an email from them, when in fact the person you know fell victim to some email hoax or scam.
  • Be careful about information that you provide within social networks, blogs, and public profiles that are posted online. If you provide a telephone number that will be published, make sure that you know who will be able to see it before you do so or you might get many unexpected and unwanted calls. I would never provide a cell phone number that will be posted online.
  • Think like a scammer. Before you provide sensitive data, think about how this could be used by someone that doesn’t exactly have the best intentions. If some else can pretend to be you without worrying about the consequences, they can think up some pretty ingenious things to do that would amaze us all, so don’t help them with this!

The world has changed a lot even in the past ten years so we need to be more aware of where are wallets and purses are but even more aware of sensitive data. Try to use some common sense and put your thoughts into what you’re doing in the moment instead of the ten things you need to do next and you’ll find yourself less likely to fall victim, but if you do then having some strategies in place for how to deal with them will limit the impact. Be sure to pass this information along to those that you care about and people that you run across in your daily life. Enjoy life but be aware as you live it!

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