Combating digital identity theft starts with awareness and education

Julianne Calapa

The growing popularity of sharing personal information on the Internet creates a concern for digital identity protection.

Approximately 16 million people experience some type of identity theft each year in the United States, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Advancements in Internet technologies make it easier for anyone to digitally steal identities and information.

Kent State’s Information Services hosted a workshop, called Protecting Your Digital Identity, to educate students about the importance of digital identity theft protection on Feb. 6.

“A digital identity is a term that has come to mean all of the online data that describes you as an individual,” said Tom Mahon, training and outreach manager for Information Services. “This includes your vital statistics, your birthday, the things you like to do, your shopping habits, your banking information and your passwords. It’s the total sum of all the things you do online.”

The biggest driving force behind digital identity theft is money, Mahon said.

Choosing a strong password is the best way to guard accounts against digital identity theft. Using a combination of uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, symbols, and dashes to form a phrase proves to be the strongest safety measure.

Passwords must be easy to remember but hard for a third party to guess, Mahon said.

Freshmen mathematics major, Maria Mandato,  said she changes her passwords frequently due to fear of identity theft. “I have a notebook full of all the passwords I use,” she said.

The rise of social media use allows ease of access to a considerable amount of data about a person.

“One of the most common and easy ways for someone to mine information about you is simply by visiting the places you’ve offered information, like social media,” Mahon said.

Never post a birth year, address or phone number on social media, Mahon said. Banks and credit card holders often use this information for identity verification.

“I’m not sure if there is necessarily a misuse of social media, but I think there might be some over-sharing going on,” said Colin Campbell, assistant professor of marketing at Kent with an expertise in social media.

Enabling private website browsing, adding an extra word at the end of a security question answer and refraining from using a credit card on questionable shopping websites can also protect digital identity information.

“I’ve had my credit card information stolen twice from online shopping, which is why I’m definitely afraid of digital identity theft” said Beatrice Camden, a freshman international relations major.

Educating people at a young age about identity theft could prevent incidents from occurring in the future.

“The biggest thing about education on this topic is for people to understand the level of risk,” Mahon said. “The repercussions of identity theft are significant. If this data is compromised, people can have severe implications that follow them for years.”

Contact Julianne Calapa at [email protected]