KENNEWICK — Thieves are working hard to steal your identifying information and then your money, said Norma Miller of the Better Business Bureau.
She gave tips on preventing identity and other personal financial theft at Lockheed Martin's 11th annual IT Day on Wednesday in Kennewick
The free event was considered "sold out," with about 2,500 people attending and 60 vendors, said Lockheed spokeswoman Liz Morse. Other speakers covered topics including cyber trends, supporting energy efficiency with information technology and cloud computing.
In keeping with the IT theme, Miller advised using a password for accessing a home computer. That prevents a burglar or thief from booting up your computer and then harvesting your financial information and any passwords you keep online.
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A good password should have uppercase and lowercase letters plus symbols, she said. Some of the worst passwords to use are birthdays and anniversary dates, pet names and the last four digits of a Social Security number. All may be easily learned online, including from a Facebook account, she said.
Miller also recommended using multiple passwords for different uses and accounts. Since having many passwords can be difficult to remember, she advised making up a saying specific to the account and then abbreviating it or using numbers that make sense only to you.
Home computers should have antivirus and firewall protection, she said. Check to make sure yours updates automatically, and if it doesn't check for updates daily, she said.
As old as email scams are, people still fall for them, she said. Typically they offer money, such as through a fraudulent check, but require a smaller amount of money to be wired. Once money is wired, it cannot be retrieved or have a stop-payment order placed on it, Miller said.
An email may look like it's from a bank, credit union or credit card company, but it's not if it asks you to verify information. A bank never would do that, she said. Don't click on links in the email, she said.
Some people are fooled when they get phone calls with a caller ID showing that indicates it is from their bank, she said. Don't provide information because it probably is not a bank, she said. If you are in doubt, look up a number you already have for the bank and call to ask, she said.
Other cyber scams are occurring on Craigslist. Be wary of rental postings that ask for a processing fee by wire, she said.
Identity thieves also can collect your information while you are shopping by snapping a picture with a smart phone, she said. If you write a check, keep your hand and thumb over the name, address and routing number, she said.
When you hand a clerk a credit card, hand it upside-down so the name and number are not visible, she said. Often if you offer the card upside-down, it will be handed back the same way, she said.
Keep track of bank balances and credit card use online so you can spot a problem before your monthly statement arrives in the mail, she said.
That's another way thieves steal identity, Miller said. About one in five people in the Tri-Cities have had their incoming or outgoing mail gone through by a thief, often looking for convenience checks or holiday cards with money, she said.
Don't leave mail in an old-fashioned box with the flag up and pick up mail in the box every day, she said. Also consider installing a locked box.
Most paperwork should be shredded, Miller said. She recommends even peeling the labels off prescription bottles and shredding them.
Her final tip was for travelers. Don't leave information in your car that has your address on it if you leave your vehicle in long-term airport parking, even if that means you have to take your vehicle registration with you.
A thief knows that no one's home or the car wouldn't be parked at the airport, and they can break into the car and find your address and burglarize your home, she said.