Special Report: Who owns your digital property?

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - As the online world grows, so does the number of our accounts and passwords.  But what happens to your digital footprint after you die?  And could these accounts become targets for identity thieves?

The internet is a go-to place for many of us to shop, share, bank, and even socialize.  With the click of a mouse or swipe of a finger, we pay bills, tweet and Skype.

But what happens to your online identity after you die? Probate lawyer, Michael Hall is beginning to see the answer to this question more and more.

"If someone is struck down unexpectedly, which happens more than you might think, I've had people, I can't get into the bank account, I don't have the password,"  Hall said.  "Because the person who had the password had it in his head or her head and didn't write it down or bother to share it."

Hall is used to putting jewelry, china, and furniture in wills, but as the younger generations get older the conversation is headed down a new path.

"Now I'm saying, in addition to leaving that information where it can be found, if something happens to you, who is going to wind up your online affairs?  Who's going to shut down your Facebook account?  Who's going to shut down your twitter account?  Who is going to stop the Instagrams from coming?  And they don't know.  And they don't and the law is pretty fuzzy about those areas."

Government officials recommend appointing someone you trust as an online executor to handle all of your accounts.  Another tip- reviewing all of the polices of each website where you have a presence.  And make sure your executor knows exactly how you want each account handled and has all of the passwords.  This can also help to prevent identity thieves from making you a target.

"It's not uncommon for them to use the accounts of dead people," Said Dougherty Sheriff's Captain Craig Dodd.  "it isn't something we see a lot here.  In the larger cities, the larger metropolitan areas you do see that quite a bit."

Dodd says it's becoming more common as identity theft rises. "it's up probably 1,000% from what it was ten years ago.  Identity theft is rampant.  It's the fastest growing crime in the world."

Hall says even if you don't put your online account information in your will, make sure you put those details with it, where it can be found by whoever you choose to wrap up your life.

"It's something nobody is ever going to know better than you do, what you want to happen to your accounts, your things.  But if you have an unfortunate accident, unless you've written it down, it's somebody else's decision."

A decision that can have a lasting impact on your digital property in the ever-growing cyber-world.

Here are some tips to protect yourself from ehow.com-
  • Copyright, patent or trademark your technology. Choosing the right device to protect your works can be difficult, so consult an experienced intellectual property attorney to determine the best vehicle for protection.
  • Draft nondisclosure agreements for anyone who comes in contact with your technology. Nondisclosure agreements will remind your employees that they should not be sharing your trade secrets with anyone else, and provides an avenue for you to collect damages from someone who shares your secrets with a competitor.
  • Continue to innovate your technology and avoid leaving it to stagnate for long periods. Nondisclosure and non-compete arguments are only valid for limited amounts of time, and competitors will be attempting to reverse engineer your technology to duplicate it or make it better. Constant innovation will allow you to stay ahead of the curve and prevent your technology from being copied.
  • Put signatures in your technology that will make it easier to identify theft. For instance, if you are writing a program that outlines bus schedules, include a very specific but very minor inaccuracy so that it is easier to prove that another bus schedule program that also includes that inaccuracy has misappropriated your programming.
  • Keep a log that outlines the growth and development of your intellectual property. If you do suspect that a competitor has misappropriated your idea, it is helpful to present your process of development in court. If your competitor cannot produce a similar log, it will provide circumstantial evidence that your competitor copied your design without actually developing it independently.
  • Keep track of who has access to your intellectual property. For instance, if you showed your idea to potential investors, write a log of the individuals present, the location of the meeting and the meeting's date. This way you can prove that the person had access to your technology at a specific time before the development of their similar technology.

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