Identity crisis

Your identity is a valuable item and more people than ever are out to relieve you of it. There is evidence that organised crime – much of it originating in Eastern Europe – is linked to web phishing, malware, hacking and even street crime of the ATM-swiping or handbag-snatching variety. It is a little scary to think that the Russian Mafia is after you, but thankfully there are ways to keep it at bay, and a couple of new ones have come to my attention that I think merit a mention here. One of them keeps a real-time watch over your personal data movements, for instant protection against theft attempts, while the other alerts you to possible misuses of your identity following a theft (even if you weren’t aware your identity had been compromised).

Identity crisis

First, let’s look at the personal data guard, Phish Net from Webroot (www.webroot.com). If that name sounds familiar, it is because Webroot also developed Spy Sweeper, which remains my main spyware- and malware-bashing solution. Phish Net is not a wholly new idea, as many security software suites feature a personal data vault; that is, somewhere to lock away sensitive information such as credit card, passport and national insurance numbers, as well as bank account details. Whenever you start to enter such details into some websites, you get a ‘Do you really want to do that?’ alert. Phish Net stores only partial credit card and account numbers and does not require all the digits to make a match, so that if some miscreant did manage to get into the vault the information gleaned wouldn’t be of much use.

To ensure your safety further, the info is encrypted too. Instead of relying solely on matching, Phish Net also uses a dynamic blacklist of known phishing sites, so if you were tricked by an email scam Phish Net would alert you before you sent all your details to the Mafia or Yakuza. This blacklist will be kept up to date by the Webroot Threat Research Team, and at the moment it is completely free and worth taking a look at. Note that like many solutions highlighted this month, Phish Net is still in beta, so do not rely on it yet.

The other product I have encountered will not stop your identity being stolen in the first place, but can alert you if some data thief, say, double-swiped your credit card when you paid for petrol. Ordinarily, you wouldn’t know until a month or so later when your credit card and bank statements ask for payment for purchases you never made. CreditExpert (www.creditexpert.co.uk) is a new service operated by Experian, one of the main credit report agencies (those firms to which enquiries are made regarding your credit worthiness when you apply for a loan, a credit card, mortgage or so on). If you have fallen foul of a data thief, you can write to Experian to purchase a copy of your report to see who’s been making enquiries, to follow the data trail and implement damage limitation as best you can. It can take years to restore your credit rating and get your own identity back following such an incident, which is why I like CreditExpert so much.

For £50, you get a whole year of 24/7 access to your credit reports and ratings via a web interface, but that’s only half of it – what makes it worth the money for me is the enquiry alert service. Whenever anyone searches your reports, you can choose to be alerted by email or text message. There are legitimate reasons for such searches: for example, when a company with which you have existing credit arrangements does an interim check to make sure you are capable of making the payments on a proposed higher credit limit. However, once alerted, you can quickly check online to see who was searching and, if it is a company you have never dealt with, chances are someone’s using your identity to apply for a loan or credit card of some kind. With such early warning, you can nip the crime in the bud and warn your bank. Experian is currently running a 30-day free trial of CreditExpert if you sign up online.

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