Fight Fraud and Identity Theft with Strong Passwords: Tips from the Identity Theft Assistance Center and BITS

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Fraudsters use sophisticated schemes to steal your passwords and access information that can be used to commit identity theft. You can stay a step ahead of the bad guys if you know their methods and create passwords that can't be easily cracked.

Fraudsters search the Internet to exploit week passwords and information about you.

I TAC, the Identity Theft Assistance Center, and BITS published tips on how consumers can reduce the risk of fraud and identity theft by using stronger passwords.

“The passwords you use on your phone, notebook and computer are your first defense against identity thieves,” said ITAC President Anne Wallace. “Criminals search the Internet to exploit weak passwords and information about you. Strong passwords help you stay one step ahead of crooks and fraudsters.”

“Financial services companies are working every day to protect customers, their information and their assets,” said Paul Smocer, President of BITS. “But during October, which is National Cyber Security Awareness Month, we want to get out the word about simple things people can do to protect themselves.”

Criminals use a variety of methods to steal passwords. They:

  •     Use information about you from social media and public records to guess your password
  •     Feed lists of frequently used passwords from the dictionary into password attacking software
  •     Use “brute force attacks” that cycle through every possible combination of characters (e.g., aaaaaaa, aaaaaab, aaaaaac, aaaaaad, etc.).

You can greatly reduce your risk by using these tips to create strong passwords.

1.    Be Complex. Use a combination of lower and upper case characters, numbers and symbols. Passwords with many types of characters are more difficult to guess.
2.    Go long. Use the maximum number of characters the site allows. Generally, the longer a password, the harder it is to guess.
3.    Phrase it. Use passwords that remind you of an event rather than a name or date. Instead of choosing a name or an event, like a child’s name or birthday, pick a phrase that reminds you of the person or birthday, such as “3rdpartySarah”.
4.    Diversity is key. Though tempting, do not use the same password for all your online sites. Remember, if someone ever determines your password, they now have full access to all of your online information and accounts.
5.    Smart combos. For example, take the first two letters of your car’s make and combine it with the first two letters of your first school, and the first few digits of a number you know well to make up a password.
6.    Think texting. Consider using the first letters of a phrase you can easily remember. For example, “my grade school was Oak Hill Elementary” becomes “mgswOHE”. Then add in digits and special characters to make it strong.
7.    Be creative. Instead of the first letter, choose to capitalize somewhere in the middle. Substitute a number for a letter. For example, use a “5” where you might use an “S” or use an “8” where you might use a “B”.

Finally, avoid easily guessed passwords, such as family member and pet names, and public information such as your birthday or address, as well as sequential passwords – “abcdefghi” for example. For more tips, visit the BITS website.

About ITAC
ITAC, the Identity Theft Assistance Center (http://www.identitytheftassistance.org), is the national advocate for identity theft victims and a leading voice on identity policy. Millions of consumers have access to the ITAC victim assistance service through our members – the financial services companies who support ITAC and offer it as a free service for their customers. ITAC is dedicated to protecting all consumers through education, research and the criminal prosecution of identity crime.

About BITS
BITS addresses issues at the intersection of financial services, technology and public policy, where industry cooperation serves the public good, such as critical infrastructure protection, fraud prevention, and the safety of financial services. BITS is the technology policy division of The Financial Services Roundtable, which represents 100 of the largest integrated financial services companies providing banking, insurance, and investment products and services to the American consumer. For more information, go to http://www.bits.org/.

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Kate Ennis
ITAC
301.580.6726
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Elise Brooks Perkins
BITS
(202) 589-2427
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