On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog
I’m not who you think I am.
Sure, you probably don’t think of me at all, which is fine (I won’t judge you for it) but what surprised me is I’m not who I thought I was either.
I got an email from an Aussie guy out of the blue asking me if I was investing in a ceramics factory in Thailand. A curious opening gambit, for sure, but having checked my portfolio and discussed matters with my business manager (Me: “Honey, do we have any investments in ceramics?” Wife: Snort) I replied that no, as far as I could tell I did not and what on earth was he asking for.
It turns out he has lots of money and was approached about an investment in said ceramics factory and as a way of enticing him in further, was provided with three email addresses for people who had already invested. Being a canny fellow, he checked up on each “investor”, of which I apparently was one, and decided to contact us directly rather than through the addresses he was given, all of which turned out to be some Thai equivalent of Hotmail.
After we chatted I realised just how easy it is to pretend to be someone else online.
Identity is very important to a lot of people because we have to be able to prove we are who we say we are for all kinds of reasons. Travel, insurance, finance, health care, driving, registering your dog and even paying taxes – it all relies utterly on us being able to prove we are who we say we are. Yet in this age of social media sharing we forget just how important it is to safeguard this information.
A friend of mine recently discovered someone else had set up a Facebook page in her name and was chatting merrily away with all her university buddies and generally building up quite a history of being her on Facebook (something she herself doesn’t use). Proving that she was the real her was rather time consuming and not a little alarming. Facebook has a process for this sort of thing. They have a process because it happens all the time. Constantly. Right now someone is out there pretending to be someone else and generally speaking I’m going to go out on a limb and say they’re doing it for nefarious reasons.
A lot of people just aren’t bothered by this. I’ve got nothing to hide, they say, and if you search online for images of “new credit card” you’ll find plenty of people who will happily take a selfie with their new card, complete with all the information you need to go shopping on their behalf.
But you need to think about what information you’re putting out there, and what information other people are sharing about you.
There are three pieces of identifying information that we’re regularly asked for that you really want to keep to yourself or at least only use when you’re connecting with something important like the bank or the government or indeed your credit rating. Don’t use them for social media questions and really think twice before you share them in public.
The first is your mother’s maiden name. Don’t use it as a user name or password and don’t use it as a secret question/answer thing for sites with rubbish security. Keep it for Inland Revenue and the like.
Speaking of which, the second thing is your IRD number. This is more prevalent in the US where you’re asked for your “social security number” more for ID purposes but it’s starting to be used here as well. Don’t use this for anything but connecting with IRD.
The last one is the boring one – your date of birth. Everybody wants your DOB so they can send you electronic bouquets of flowers and get everyone excited for you, but again it’s a detail that is best kept to yourself.
If you figure out a person’s date of birth, their mother’s maiden name and where they live you’re on your way to being able to set up new accounts, order credit cards, buy stuff online and all the rest and that’s not an easy rabbit hole to get out of.
Online security doesn’t have to be about not going online. It doesn’t have to be about avoiding social media and not doing any of those quizzes that tell you what kind of dog you’re best suited to. But you do need to consider what information you’re giving out and whether the person or service you’re giving it to really needs to know that about you.
And remember, if you’re ever a victim of identity fraud, you can easily ‘freeze’ (suppress) your credit report. This means the credit reporting agency can’t share your information with anyone, which will prevent someone from taking out credit in your name, as credit providers will usually not grant new credit where they are unable to do a credit check on someone.
Credit Simple gives all Kiwis free access to their credit score, as well as their detailed credit report. See how your credit score compares by age, gender and community and gain valuable insights into what it all means.All stories by: Credit Simple