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Solutions for Identity Theft, Credit/Debit Card Theft, and Personal Information Theft

Part I: Overview

Focus on the point that the initial theft is information theft, not identity theft. And focus on that what you need to protect is your personal information.

Mike Angelo -- 29 June 2005 (C) -- Page 1

Article Index

Even better, switch from the MS Windows operating system to the GNU-Linux operating system.

To learn why Linux is so much a better choice than is Microsoft Windows, please see our article Gaël Duval Tells Why Mandrake Linux Is Better Than MS Windows

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For more about GNU-Linux distributions and how they are put together, please see Anatomy of a Linux Distribution in our article SCO Clears Linux Kernel but Implicates Red Hat and SuSE.

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Executive Summary

Web browsing and e-mail can open you to all sorts of information theft, credit card theft, debit card theft, and identity theft. Securing your personal information and your computer from access by evildoers via the Internet is something within your control. It is something you can and should do right now!

Among the biggest information-theft threats that come from Web surfing and e-mail are cookies, forms, phishing, and scripts such as JavaScript (JS) and Active X controls. Today we show you how to protect yourself against information theft via cookies, scripts, HTML e-mail, and so forth.

Some Web-browsing, information-theft exposures such as phishing are clearly noticeable and take advantage of carelessness on your part. Others such as evil scripts are not all that visible and take advantage of your lack of knowledge and/or failure to properly configure your Web browser or e-mail client. In some cases your Web browser or e-mail client is a piece of crap security-wise -- and you should change your browser or e-mail client.

Initially information, credit card, debit card, and identity thieves are stealing your personal information. The initial theft is information theft, not identity theft or money theft. What you need to protect is your personal information.

To protect yourself against information theft, credit card theft, debit card theft, and identity theft you must not allow your Internet browser or your e-mail client to accept cookies or to allow scripts to run. You must not allow HTML e-mail. Do not use Microsoft Outlook. Even better, switch from the MS Windows operating system to the GNU-Linux operating system. Firewalling your Internet connection is very important too.

About the Author

Mike Angelo has written hundreds of published newspaper and magazine computer and technology articles. He has more than 40 years experience using solid-state, digital computers.

Mike has written lots of computer programs in assembly, BASIC, FORTRAN, machine, and several other languages -- on a variety of mainframe and desktop machines. He has designed and built some special purpose computers, and does PC upgrading and building. Mike also creates, designs, and maintains Web sites.

In 1993, Mike Angelo started writing a print newspaper computer column, About Computers. He has written articles for top-tier magazines including Byte, Computer Buyer's Guide & Handbook, DOS World, I-Way, Laptop Buyer's Guide & Handbook, Linux Journal, Maximize, MozillaQuest Magazine, PC Novice, and PC Today.

Despite Mike Angelo's extensive computer experience he has a real life and uses computers as tools. Therefore, he approaches his computer writing from the user's interest and point of view.

CNN's Paula Zahn did a great show about identity theft on 26 May 2005. It was very informative and it did a good job of letting people know about identity theft. We have placed a link to the transcript of that show in the Resources section on page 3 at the end of this article in case you missed that show. If you missed it, read the transcript.

Unfortunately, Paula Zahn's identity theft show followed the popular but somewhat misleading identity theft story line. That show overlooked what can be done to shut identity theft down cold -- and what needs to be done to shut down identity theft.

The bottom line is that on the computer technology and Internet side, if you want to protect yourself against identity theft you must not allow your Internet browser or your e-mail to accept cookies or to allow scripts to run. You must not allow HTML e-mail. Do not use Microsoft Outlook. Even better, switch from the MS Windows operating system to the GNU-Linux operating system. More about all this further on in this article and more about switching to Linux in the sidebar to the right.

To a large extent we are condemned by the language we use and the words in our vocabulary. On the other side, we benefit by our American language and having the right words in our vocabulary. However, identity theft often is the wrong term -- use of that term condemns us to being victimized by what people call identity theft.

Identify Theft IS Not Identity Theft, Per Se

The hackers and crackers that are engaging in identity theft often are not really stealing anyone's identity. What they are stealing is your money. What often mistakenly is called identity theft is nothing more or less than money theft -- stealing. And mostly what you need to protect yourself against is money theft -- and you need to protect yourself against the tools and methods so-called identity thieves use to steal your money.

So as a society, let's lose the misuse of the cute, yuppie, and distracting term identity theft. It's stealing. So let's call it what it is, stealing -- and for the most part it is stealing money and property -- your money and your property.

For the most part, so-called identity theft is not someone going around impersonating you, although in a sense they do this to steal your money and your property. They are using your personal information, including credit card and banking information, to steal your money.

Information Theft

Normally the so-called identity thieves are not using your name and other personal information to get a job, apply to college, and so forth. For want of a better term, let's call this sort of thing deceptive impersonation.

At a more criminal level the so-called identity thieves use your name and other personal information to apply for credit cards, mortgages, and other such debt instruments in your name with the intent of never paying the money back. For want of a better term, let's call this sort of thing fraudulent impersonation.

In fraudulent impersonation the personal information thieves are not stealing from you. Rather, they are stealing directly from the lenders and vendors that let them buy on credit and so forth -- but they are using your name and the personal information they have obtained about you to do the stealing.

Mostly as far as we know, the personal information thieves are using your personal information, such as credit card info or bank account info, for the very limited, but costly, purpose of stealing your money. Perhaps a better term for this sort of so-called identity theft would be credit theft.

In credit theft, they are stealing from you by charging items to your accounts. Here it is up to you to prove to the lender or bank that you did not make the charge against your credit card, debit card, or whatever. (Credit/debit theft might be more accurate but let's try to keep things somewhat simple.)

Thus in credit theft, evildoers initially are stealing from you -- until you prove you did not make the charge to your card. Then at that point the victim is the lender or banker from whom the credit/debit thief has stolen money.

Intuitively that makes sense, Generally criminals are lazy. They will pick the unlocked car over the locked car to steal. They will pick the unlocked house or vacant house over the locked or occupied house to rob. In like fashion, they will pick an existing credit card account to raid (credit theft) rather than go through the work of setting up a new credit card account in your name (fraudulent impersonation).

That's not to say they will not set up a new credit card or whatever in your name (fraudulent impersonation). Just as it is not to say thieves will never steal a locked car or rob a locked house.

Initially what these so-called identity thieves are stealing is your personal information. That in itself is a big problem. The bigger problem is what they do with it. Focus on the point that the initial theft is information theft, not identity theft. And focus on that what you need to protect is your personal information.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) definition of identity theft seems to be comparable to our more focused definitions of fraudulent impersonation and credit theft.

Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information such as your name, Social Security number, credit card number or other identifying information, without your permission to commit fraud or other crimes. ( ID Theft Home, U.S. FTC)

Focusing-in, there are primarily four things being stolen:

(1) credit card numbers and supporting info such as expiration dates and the names, addresses, and phone numbers of the card holder
(2) bank account info such as account and PIN numbers,
(3) Social Security Numbers, and
(4) financially useful personal information.

The 26 May, Paula Zahn, CNN show did a very good job of explaining all this. If you did not see the show, please read the transcript of that show for the details.

Stealing credit card numbers and bank account numbers helps thieves to steal your money the quickest and easiest way (credit theft). As an active IRC-er for years, this writer has witnessed countless occurrences where someone in an IRC (Internet Relay Chat) channel is talking about something he or she wants, types some utterance to the effect "I need a card number", goes away for a few minutes or less, and comes back announcing something to the effect "got one".

The 26 May, Paula Zahn, CNN show did a very good job of explaining how these people use IRC and other Internet chat services to obtain credit card and bank account information so quickly and so easily. But that show did not explain adequately how to protect your credit card and bank account information -- that you have on your computer.

It did warn about phishing (pronounced fishing), but it did not go into items such as cookies, scripts, HTML e-mail, and so forth. Therefore, we will show you how to protect yourself against information theft via cookies, scripts, HTML e-mail, and so forth.

  • See Exploits, Risks, and Solutions on Page 2 ----->
  • See Securing your Web Browser on Page 2 ----->
  • Article Index

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