April 01, 2001
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio April 2001 Current Issue
April 2001 Tech filesPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:


BY Bob Walters

Tips on keeping your personal information secure in today’s electronic world

Hardly a day goes by without a story about the new white-collar crime, identity theft, making fresh headlines.

The problem has become so prevalent there are now law firms specializing in helping you if someone is illegally using your information. You might feel immune to this because you haven’t entered any personal data on the Internet or purchased anything lately, but you can be sure your information is in a database somewhere, available for sale.

If you have logged onto the Internet, even just to get e-mail, it is highly possible your name, home and e-mail addresses, phone number, and other information is in someone’s database. Ever wonder how that Web page knew you were interested in lower mortgage rates or why those banner ads seemed focused on your interests? If you completed a survey, bought a product, visited certain sites on a regular basis or searched a site for information, you have been profiled.

Incidentally, the same thing happens at most stores where you use a discount, bank or credit card. Computer systems today track your buying habits at almost every turn; these databases are then sold to organizations that create profiles for sale. Ever wonder how you got so lucky to have your favorite grocery store or department store break ground nearby? It was through an in-depth analysis of the buying habits of people like you living and/or working in your neighborhood.

What can you do to protect yourself? Aside from paying cash for everything, there are steps you can take to secure your information. Rule number one: Never give out your Social Security number via the Internet or over the phone. It can be used to access everything about you and is the key to identity theft. There has been a shift away from requesting this number for meeting registration, membership and identification purposes. About the only places I’ve had to provide my SSN lately was to apply for credit or to set up a bank account. Protect this number at all costs.

If you’re worried your identity has been compromised, review your credit report and look for accounts you never opened or even inquiries from unfamiliar institutions these are the first signs of possible theft.

Rule number two: Be careful where you shop, and use the right tools. While some surveys indicate only 15 percent of the population has purchased something on-line, that number is expected to grow quickly as more payment options are introduced. Soon, you’ll be able to use your debit card, Internet-only credit cards and electronic signatures.

Get a credit card that has a very strict online policy; most will not hold you responsible for more than the first $50 of unauthorized purchases, others protect you 100 percent. And before you input your credit card number, always look for verification that you are accessing a secure page indicated by either a golden key (Microsoft Explorer), a closed padlock (Netscape Navigator), an address that starts with “https” or on-screen messages identifying that you are being transferred to a secure server.

A new device on the way is a small adapter that fits into the PCMCIA port in notebooks or connects via a PC’s USB port, allowing you to insert a credit card fitted with a special chip, possibly an infrared thumbprint or encrypted electronic signature. It won’t have the usual number; instead, you will receive a new PIN number, which is reassigned each time the card is used, foiling credit card thieves.

Bob Walters, based in Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas, is the founder of Phoenix Solutions and developer of MeetingTrak software.

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