How you, and Google, can help prevent identity theft

Posted by Pablo Chavez, Director, Public Policy

Yesterday, the Federal Trade Commission released its annual list of the top categories of consumer complaints received by the agency. In 2012, for the thirteenth year in a row, complaints about identity theft topped the list.

Identity theft has real consequences for consumers. It enables fraudsters to open lines of credit, drain banking, savings, and retirement accounts, file false tax returns, and falsify medical records. Victims often incur significant out-of-pocket expenses, spend considerable time trying to fix the problems created by the theft, and experience emotional stress as they attempt to repair the damage to their lives.

Keeping our users’ information safe and secure is among our highest priorities at Google, and we are continuously adjusting our security practices as threats from identity thieves and account hijackers evolve.

In 2010, we turned SSL encryption on by default for Gmail users to protect their messages from being snooped on by others, and have since extended this security measure to services like Google Search and Google Drive as well. In 2011, we made our 2-step verification service available for all Google Accounts so users could add an extra layer of security and protection to their account.

And as we noted last week when we saw spammers start to focus their attention on breaking into legitimate Google accounts in 2010, our security team further strengthened the Google Account sign-in process. This allowed us to reduce the number of accounts compromised by those specific kinds of attacks by 99.7 percent.

You can read more about how Google helps protect you from identity theft, and steps that you can take to help protect yourself and keep your family safe online on our Good to Know site. We encourage anyone concerned about online safety or identity theft to take five minutes today and do the following:

  • Make sure you are using strong, unique passwords for each of your important online accounts;
  • Make sure your account recovery options are up-to-date to help services contact you if there is a problem with your account; and
  • Turn on 2-step verification for your Google Account.

We’ll continue to work hard to protect our users and help make the Internet a safer place for everyone from threats like identity theft and online fraud. And to keep identity theft from making the consumer complaint list for a fourteenth year in a row, we look forward to working with other companies, NGOs, and the public sector on identifying emerging security threats and improving consumer education efforts.