The Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog

It Pays to be Paranoid: Online Fraud and Identity Theft

The key to online safety might just be a combination of paranoia and common sense.

Online shopping has gone from a niche in the 1990s to an everyday practice, thanks in large part to online security measures such as encryption and secure connections. However, online fraud and identity theft present a recurrent problem for many.

Fortunately, there are steps that can be taken to reduce your chances of becoming a victim of cyber-crime. Many of these steps are free. If you have already been hacked, we've also got information on remedying the problems.

The Primer: FindLaw’s Guide to Online Fraud and Identity Theft

This handy (and free) guide provides an excellent overview of what identity theft is, steps to prevent identity theft, and what to do if you’re already a victim. The Guide is an excellent place to start your path to online security.

An Ounce of Prevention…

The key is common sense and skepticism. Is that Nigerian cousin really going to hook you up with a few million dollars if you provide your account numbers? Even if that email is written in normal, conversational English, or claims to be from your credit card company, never send any passwords or other sensitive information via email. Never follow a link in an email to reset a password, unless you requested the password change.

An emerging preventative measure is the use of disposable credit card numbers. Many credit card companies provide single-use numbers. If the vendor is later hacked, the stored numbers are useless.

Check Yourself Before Your Credit Wrecks Itself

There are two great (and free) ways to check your credit online. There’s the free annual credit report site through the U.S. Government. It allows you to get a single report from all three credit bureaus each year for free. Though it doesn’t include your magical credit score, it does list all of your open credit accounts and outstanding debts.

We’d recommend starting with one report and checking for any suspicious debts or accounts. If it’s all clear, wait four months and try a second one. After another four months, try the third. This way, you have credit monitoring year-round.

If you’re looking for a credit score, check out CreditKarma.com. They are a free site, now owned by TransUnion (one of the credit bureaus), that provides constant credit monitoring, simulated credit scores, and the same information you’d find on your credit reports. Because their simulated credit score is based off of their own formula, it may vary from the Big Three credit bureaus. It still provides a decent estimate, however.

Fight Back!

If you’ve been hacked, defrauded, or seven other Willie Peacocks have appeared in Wisconsin and Wyoming, act immediately. Your first mission should be damage control. Contact your credit card companies and banks and request new account numbers. Change passwords to every online account. Check all three credit reports for signs of fraud. Report anything unfamiliar or suspicious to the credit bureau. If problems persist, consider contacting an attorney.

Stay paranoid (and safe) L.A.!

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