Digital Dangers: You may be putting yourself at risk for electronic identity theft without even knowing it

Updated: May. 2, 2019 at 4:33 PM EDT
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SARASOTA (WWSB) - Keeping your private information from falling into the wrong hands is a big challenge.

The Federal Trade Commission says the Sunshine State has the second highest rate of identity theft per capita. Last year alone, Floridians lost 84 million dollars to hackers. ABC7’s Jacqueline Matter found you may be putting your identity at risk without even realizing it.

Most people know it’s a good idea to shred documents with personal information on them such as tax records, W-2s and other items with sensitive information, but what about those devices that don’t shred like hard drives, thumb drives and mobile devices?

Gary Jodat, who you may know for his famous catch phrase, “Who that, Jodat!”, was a victim of identity theft, despite taking numerous precautions.

“We were involved with an identity theft incident where our checks were counterfeited," the Suncoast lawyer says.

The criminal cashed thousands of dollars in fraudulent checks and it was only because of a text message from Jodat’s bank that he realized something was wrong.

“When I first got the text my initial thought was, ‘Hmmm….is this real? Should I drop what I’m doing right now and call the bank and check it out?’ And I did,” Jodat says. "I’m glad I did because it averted a much bigger problem.”

The FTC says by 2016 the number of reported identity thefts increased by nearly 40 percent in two years and 61 percent of those complaints were from people between the ages of 30 and 59.

And fraudsters are targeting your electronics too, according to Nathan Bailey, the Chief Operating Officer at SouthTech IT Services in Sarasota.

“People used to go through the mail and pull out the credit card applications and stuff like that. They don’t really do that anymore a lot of it they get electronically," Bailey explains.

Flash drives, hard drives, old computers and phones contain just as much sensitive information as confidential documents.

“Protecting your personal identity is critical and you want to take the steps before you destroy your computers, turn it in and make sure that it’s not going to fall into the wrong hands," Bailey says.

There are some common misconceptions when it comes to properly cleaning your digital footprint.

“Well one, they may just try to throw it away and hope nobody finds it, but if they ever did, they’re going to pull everything off. The other thing people often do is delete files. They are like, ‘Oh I deleted everything I should be good,’ but really the data is still there."

So how do you protect yourself?

If you’re getting rid of old electronics reset the device or get it back to factory settings, wipe it out completely and either destroy and smash the hard drive or if you’ve got a drill handy drill right through it.

There are reputable companies that recycle the hazardous metals inside, but you should always ask for a receipt that your electronics were properly disposed of.

Taking these steps can help you avoid the time consuming task of getting your identity back if it falls into the wrong hands.

“Unwinding that takes months," Bailey says. "You’re on the phone with pretty much every vendor that the account was open on as well as the consumer credit bureaus and freezing your accounts and stuff but it takes months to typically get through that process, a lot of phone calls a lot of time.”

Jodat argues, "The best way to handle it is to stay up-to-date, put safeguards in to place and don’t let these thieves get away with it.”

  1. If you are getting a new mobile device like a laptop, phone or tablet, from the moment you get it, turn on encryption. Desktops won’t typically need this because they are stationary and more secure but it is possible to do if you feel it is necessary.
  2. Turn on two-factor authentication for your log-in’s to different sites and portals. This can be used for accounts, banking, emails and basically requires in addition to a username and password, a second form of confirmation is needed like a text message to your phone with a one time code.
  3. And don’t forget about those passwords. Instead of writing them down everywhere or typing them up in a document, use a password vault that’s encrypted.

All of these steps will make it easier at the end for you when you do get rid of any old electronics, plus it will help protect you along the way.

The Manatee County Clerk of Court’s Office will be holding the shredding event at Palmetto’s Manatee County Fairgrounds at the west side in the VIP parking lot. It will be held from 9 to 11 AM at 1402 14th Avenue West, Palmetto, FL. 34221.

The event is free and the limit for each family is two standard-sized bankers’ boxes. No drop-offs will be accepted and all participants must stay in line with their documents until they are shredded.

While this shredding event will only accept paper documents such as financial statements, social security records, credit card statements, tax returns, etc. They will not accept CDs, thumb drives, hard drives, plastics, floppy discs, magazines and newspapers.

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