ALARM — A 5-Step Plan Towards Better Home and Internet Security

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Using acronyms to remember terms and information also works in identity theft matters.

The acronym ALARM represents the five most important steps every consumer and small business owner needs to follow in order to minimize exposure to identity theft.

ALARM stands for: Accept, Learn, Assess, Respond, Maintain

ALARM is a path to safeguard us against apathy and indifference — perhaps the two most significant factors that make us vulnerable to identity theft. To put it in simpler terms, ALARM represents a necessary reminder that identity theft does indeed exist.

ALARM involves understanding:

  • Why you could be a victim of identity theft.
  • How your attitude and behavior can make you vulnerable.
  • How others (especially identity thieves) see/perceive you.
  • What you need to do to change behavioral patterns that make you susceptible to identity theft.

Step 1: Accept that Internet security is essential

The first and most important step in any home and Internet security plan is to fully accept that identity thefts do exist.

That means accepting:

  • The seriousness and variety of the risks
  • The likelihood that you will be a victim of identity theft
  • The likely long-term impact and cost if you are a victim
  • The need to take personal responsibility
  • The need to take planned action on how to protect your personal security now

If you don't fully and truly accept that there are life-changing cyber threats out there, and that you're the only one who can really make a difference, then any further action is meaningless.

But if you do "accept" those factors, then you're now ready to move on to the next step.

Step 2: Learn about Internet security

A senior executive at a well-known Internet security firm told a reporter that user education and awareness are both obstacles to security, and that users should instead leave security to technology. She was obviously trying to sell the idea of technology as a buffer to security threats, but her statement couldn't have been more inaccurate.

When it comes to fighting identity theft, a little knowledge is not a dangerous thing! As part of the planning process, you should take the time to learn as much as you can about:

  • What the threats and risks of Internet and home security are
  • Who the "bad guys" are (e.g. identity thieves)
  • What they want from you
  • How they attempt to get to you and your information, personal details, etc.
  • What exploitable mistakes they expect you to make
  • What you can do to minimize your exposure
  • What role online security technology plays in identity theft
  • How that technology works

The Privacy Matters IdentitySM Learning Center is an excellent place to go for detailed, accurate and up-to-date information about online security.

Step 3: Assess your Internet security vulnerabilities

Step 3 is where you really get to see yourself as identity thieves see you, and in this step your focus is on assessing and measuring your own vulnerabilities.

There are more than a dozen aspects of our daily lives that make us all vulnerable to ID theft, from the way we use computers and the Internet to the way we monitor our credit, handle our mail, and pay our bills.

Your next job is to assess where and to what extent you are vulnerable in areas such as:

  • Your attitude and behavior
  • Your awareness and vigilance
  • Your use of computers and the Internet
  • Your family home security rules and expectations
  • Use of credit cards
  • How you handle your mail
  • How you bank and pay bills
  • What credit monitoring safeguards you have in place
  • How you create and use passwords
  • How you manage your financial records
  • How you behave in public

The goal should be to see yourself as the id thief sees you — or ideally before the theif even gets a chance to see you. You have to first find your own vulnerabilities before you can proceed to the next and most important step.

Privacy Matters Identity provides its members with a detailed personal identity profile that helps them easily assess many of their offline and online security vulnerabilities.

Step 4: Respond with an Internet security plan

How you respond to everything you've learned will ultimately determine how well you're insulated from crime, and that's why Step 4 is so important.

This step focuses on what home and Internet security measures you're going to put in place to essentially "patch up" your vulnerabilities. Some of these "patches" might include:

  • Changes in your behavior, habits, and attitude
  • Creating of a set of online and home security rules for you and your family
  • Better use of online security technologies
  • Changes in your credit monitoring behavior
  • Changes in how you handle your mail
  • Changes in how you run your business
  • Changes in how you use and manage your credit cards
  • Security around your home
  • What you plan to do if you do fall victim to online identity theft

The ultimate goal of Step 4 is to create a list of security rules that address the vulnerabilities you discover — those that can lead to the theft of your identity.

Step 5: Maintain your Internet security program

The final step in planning your personal security is probably the easiest, but only if you've completed Steps 1 through 4. If you've embraced the first four steps, Step 5 simply requires you to give yourself a regular checkup, to make sure that changes in your life (e.g. Your marital status has changed, you have recently relocated, etc) have not created new vulnerabilities, and that you're up-to-date on the latest threats, tricks and techniques used by the identity thieves.

Remember. Good security is not a "set it and forget it" program. Instead, you are required to regularly review and update your security so it addresses changes — not only in the ID threat-ripe environment that surrounds us all, but also to monitor any changes in your personal lifestyle.

Welcome to the program. Study hard, learn well, and here's to a successful plan that includes improved home and Internet security!

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