Protecting Online Identity is Growing in Importance

What would you do if you sat down for a job interview and a potential employer asked for your Facebook login details? It might sound like an unlikely scenario, but there are already reports of it happening. Given how large a role online identity has come to play in our lives, protecting that identity is more important than ever.

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, one of the richest men in the world, was a recent high profile victim of identity theft. Oprah Winfrey and Paris Hilton are among the many celebrities who have been targeted in similar scams.

Solutions like Allstate’s Identity Restoration coverage are on hand for anyone who has already fallen prey to an identity thief. But with threats coming at us from all angles, and even young children being targeted, what can be done to prevent such cases from occurring?

Social Security

LifeLock CEO Todd Davis was convinced his company could safeguard against identity theft. In fact, Davis was so sure of LifeLock’s cast-iron promises that he publicized his real Social Security number in the company’s ads, ultimately becoming a victim himself many times over.

In 2011, software attacks on Android phones rose by 472 percent, often coming from rogue apps.

With threats coming at us from all angles, and even young children being targeted, what can be done to prevent such cases from occurring?

Davis’s case is extreme, but parents should be alert when it comes to their children’s identities. An NBC news story reported a teenager was $750,000 in debt due to the actions of identity thieves.

What can be done? The Identity Theft Resource Center is a good place to start—see their instructions here on how to receive a child’s credit report. is another valuable resource for helping parents with similar concerns.

If you suspect your own Social Security number has been stolen, start by reading these useful tips on what to do from the Social Security Administration. Make sure you lodge a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, and get in touch with the police to file a report.

E-mail and Social Networking

Social networks can also serve as entry points for identity hackers. According to NBC Los Angeles, in 2008 Diane Solomon got an alert from a neighbor saying that Solomon had been in touch via Facebook, asking for money. Solomon didn’t have a Facebook account, but someone had hacked into her e-mail and set up a Facebook account through it.

How often do you change your e-mail password? How many times do you re-use the same password on different sites? Use upper and lower case letters. Use symbols. Use numbers. Preferably a combination of all those things – yes, it’s a pain in the neck, but it’s important. Hackers can run programs to guess your password, often unloading a cavalcade of spam if they gain access. As a general rule, the less information about you is publicly available online, the safer your identity will be.

As for potential employers asking you for Facebook and Twitter log-ins — the legality of that is still being hotly debated. Maryland is seeking to be the first state to ban the practice, according to NPR. Several U.S. Senators have asked the Justice Department to investigate whether the practice violates federal law.

In the unlikely event that it happens – and in the absence of concrete legal answers – be diplomatic. Facebook itself has told users not to give out their passwords to employers or anyone else, calling it a violation of the company’s Terms of Service, and you can tell nosy prospective employers – politely – that you do not feel comfortable violating those terms. Given the potential lawsuits surrounding this practice, if you do find yourself in this situation, you may want to consult a lawyer.

Of course, keeping your Facebook page free of embarrassing, illegal, or deeply personal information is always a good strategy, whether or not you ever intend to show it to an employer. You should also check your privacy settings to make sure very little of your account is pubic, since that information can also be used by identity thieves.

Protect Your Apps

A burgeoning threat comes from handheld devices. In 2011, software attacks on Android phones rose by 472 percent, often coming from rogue apps. The apps appear innocuous, even gaining fake rave reviews in the Android marketplace. But once a phone is infected, the user may suddenly find themselves running up a huge bill after texts start flying out to premium rate services.

Google has taken steps to eliminate the problem, but it’s unlikely to go away entirely. Thankfully, a number of anti-virus apps help counter the problem, with AVG among the companies offering protection against personal data theft and messaging scams. Lookout Security & Antivirus is another popular virus-busting app.

But the best way to protect your phone is to stick to well-established apps from reputable companies. As this Extreme Tech article points out, sometimes the anti-virus apps are as unreliable as the ones that caused the problem in the first place.

Have you been a victim of identity theft? What tips would you offer to anyone looking to protect their digital identity?