Top tips when entering competitions

Posted by Andrew Penny in Identity Theft on 31 May 2012 - Andrew is responsible for Quality Assurance at checkmyfile

Entering competitions could win you more than you bargained for.

Everyone hopes of winning the lottery or the pools but with the advent of the internet many companies now run competitions online, with the chance to win some big prizes from holidays to gadgets to cash.

These competitions will regularly require you to answer a simple question and then ask you to input a selection of personal details, from your name and address to your phone number, date of birth and email address and everything else in between.

Some of the competitions may even require that you sign up to their site, setting up a user name and password and often make you agree to receive mail shots from themselves and/or selected third parties.

Now, if a stranger came up to you in the street and asked for your name, address, date of birth then you would tell them to go away in no uncertain terms. However, dangle the chance of winning a prize in front of someone and prospective winners seem unable to stop themselves from handing over their personal information without thinking about the consequences.

The majority of online competitions are safe and legitimate, but there may be one or two nefarious sites out there that collect this personal data in order to do malicious things with the information, for example attempt to steal your identity.

In order to protect your data when entering online competitions, there are a few basic steps you can follow.

Firstly, set up a separate “competition” email account. There are many email account providers available including Google and Yahoo that you can sign up for and use for free. This will mean that if the worst does happen and your email is hijacked or closed down then your main private email address remains private.

Secondly, get a cheap pay as you go mobile. Most of us nowadays have a draw full of old, discarded mobiles. You can pick up a PAYG SIM card for a few quid. This SIM card combined with your old mobile provides you with a separate phone number so you don’t have to hand out your landline or private mobile number and means you don’t get any cold calls to your private numbers.

Thirdly, consider using a service address, which you can purchase inexpensively from companies such as ScanMyPost.com. Then you don’t have to hand out your home address to have any potential winnings sent to.

And finally, probably the most important point of all, many people use the same user name and password across multiple sites. If you do have to set up an account with a site in order to enter a competition then do not use the same password that you have used on other sites, especially do not use the same password you used when you set up your email account. A good tip for choosing a user name and password is to add the site name to the username and password. If the password cannot contain the site name then consider using a shortened version of the site name. This way, if your account on one site is hacked, the hacker won’t have your password that may be used for other sites.

Following these few steps will help defend against the possible threat of identity theft and make entering competitions that bit safer.

Andrew Penny leads our Software Quality Assurance. He has a degree in Computer Science from the University of Lancaster

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