7 Tips to Avoid Shoulder Surfing and Other ID Theft Attempts

As technology advances, identity thieves find new, ingenious ways to steal consumers’ personal information. Once a cyber thief has your full name, address, social security number, password, PIN, or certain combinations of these bits of information, your financial security is jeopardized. Thieves can swipe your identity in many ways, but shoulder surfing still is one of the most common methods to steal your information.  

What is Shoulder Surfing and Where Does it Happen? 

According to the search security company TechTarget, the term, “shoulder surfing” comes from the physical act of looking over someone’s shoulder while they disclose personal information. The company conducted a survey that found two-thirds of mobile device users reported seeing someone else’s PIN, either accidentally or intentionally. A different study found that 73% of mobile users admitted to seeing someone else’s PIN.  

Literal examples of shoulder surfing include someone standing in line behind you while you type your PIN into an ATM or a coworker in the adjoining cubicle spying on your computer screen while you bank online. However, improved technology creates the opportunity for new forms of shoulder surfing, for example using hidden cameras and recording devices. 

Shoulder surfing identity theft often occurs in crowded locations like shopping malls, restaurants, co-working spaces, airports, and other social spaces. Some of the most common ID theft situations happen when victims: 

  • Enter their PIN during an ATM transaction, 
  • Use their credit card or debit card to make an in-store purchase, 
  • Type their username and password when online banking or shopping by phone or computer, 
  • Disclose personal information over the phone in a public place, and 
  • Log onto a public Wi-Fi network to access private accounts. 

Regardless of how a cybercriminal obtains your personal information, with enough details, or the right combination of data, they can invade your bank and credit card accounts, steal your money, run up unauthorized charges, and create a financial nightmare. If you are an identity theft victim, the Financial Justice Initiative is here to help.  

7 Steps You Can Take to Reduce Identity Theft Opportunities 

While no one is immune from identity theft, you can reduce the likelihood of being a victim by following these 7 tips: 

  1. Physically block other people from viewing your activity at an ATM or other point-of-sale location in public places. Always place your body in front of the ATM or kiosk and block the keypad with your other hand. If you think someone was watching, change your PIN immediately. It’s a smart idea to change your PIN regularly to reduce your financial exposure. 
  2. When using your phone or computer in public, sit with your back to the wall. Move to a private area and cover your mouth when sharing information over the phone. Use a privacy screen filter on your computer so only you can see what is on your screen.  
  3. Biometric technology such as facial recognition and fingerprint identification offer some of the best ways to avoid a shoulder surfer since you don’t have to use a PIN. Also, contactless payment (such as Google Wallet or Apple Pay) and methods that allow you to keep your card in your possession (such as placing your card on top of a chip scanner) will help secure your accounts.  
  4. Never use the same password for multiple accounts. If a thief deciphers one password, they can access several accounts using the same or similar passwords. 
  5. Never enter personal financial information online while using public Wi-Fi or an unsecured, shared device.  
  6. Set up two-factor authentication on your financial accounts. In addition to a PIN or password, ask your bank to send an email with a limited time code or a verification request to confirm you are the person trying to access your account.  
  7. Review your bank accounts, credit bureau reports, credit card statements, and other financial information regularly. Look for errors, fraudulent charges, and unauthorized transactions. If you find anything suspicious, contact the financial institution or notify the credit bureau as soon as possible to limit your potential losses.  

If You are a Victim of Shoulder Surfing, You Have Rights 

Identity theft can happen to anyone. When an ID thief steals your personal information:  

  • Your bank accounts can be emptied,  
  • Your credit cards may be maxed out,  
  • New accounts or loans could be opened in your name, 
  • Your credit history might be damaged, and 
  • You may encounter financial companies that won’t help. 

When you discover unauthorized transactions, you must dispute them quickly. The bank, credit reporting agencies, credit card issuers, and other creditors are bound by federal laws such as the Electronic Fund Transfer Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and the Fair Credit Billing Act which were enacted to protect your rights.  

The Identity theft law firms that formed the Financial Justice Initiative understand your problems. You have questions and they have answers. Call for a free case consultation at (206) 350-2357 or fill out this short form today.