Did you know the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are only around 1 in 100,000,000? That’s not a scary thought, mainly since 9 out of 10 people survive.
But when it comes to identity theft, the odds are 1 in 15. Worldwide, there’s a new victim every 2 seconds. Now, that is spine-chilling!
Identity theft is the most common consequence of a data breach. Defrauding and stealing someone’s identity is easier today than it has ever been in history.
Let’s go behind the scenes of an identity theft maneuver and learn how you can protect yourself from it.
What is identity theft
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal identifying information (like your name, social security number, or credit card number) without your knowledge or permission. The purpose of identity theft is to commit fraud or other crimes.
Identity thieves gain financial advantages or other benefits, while victims suffer financial loss and possibly other severe consequences, including being accused of a crime they didn’t commit.
How identity thieves grab your information
Back in the day, identity thieves used to steal wallets or purses to get IDs and credit cards. While this still happens, it is less common than the more convenient and hassle-free methods the digital era provides.
In 2020, 58% of worldwide breaches involved personal information leaks. 64% of Americans have never checked to see if they were affected by a data breach.
So, here is how identity thieves steal your data nowadays:
- Fill out change-of-address forms to forward mail, hoping to get your personal and financial information from your correspondence. For example, scammers find a loyalty card from your favorite store and have a new one issued to their address.
- Skim information from ATMs – attackers place an electronic device over the ATM, and capture credit or debit card information
- Grab personal information that was previously shared or posted on unsecured websites or public Wi-Fi networks.
- Hack into your device using malware or spyware.
- Buy personal information from a third-party source (e.g., a company employee who has access to your applications for credit).
- Steal electronic records through a data breach.
- Send phishing emails or fake text messages (aka smishing) specifically designed to steal sensitive information.
The reason behind identity theft
Once they have your information in comes the next phase in the identity-theft process.
Mainly depending on what kind of information they have on you, here are the most frequent purposes of identity theft:
- To steal your money or benefits;
- To sell your information on the dark web;
- To impersonate you.
Let’s go through them one by one.
Steal your money or benefits
If they have your credit card number, name, and address, a criminal may be able to make unauthorized charges to your credit card.
With more information on their hands, they might also be able to:
- Get new credit cards in your name;
- File a tax return to steal your tax refund;
- Use your stolen airline miles;
- Open a phone, electricity, or gas account;
- Receive medical treatment using your health insurance information;
- Apply for government benefits.
Selling your info on the dark web
Many times, after a data breach, the exposed information ends up for sale on the dark web. According to a US data broker, social security numbers usually sell for $1 each. Credit card numbers go for around $110, while an American passport sells for up to $2,000.
An identity thief could create accounts using your name and personal details. Cybercriminals pretend to be you and use your info to rent an apartment, for instance.
Fraudsters often target people with a strong credit history and no criminal background.
#IdentityTheft Tip No.2: If you receive an unsolicited email 📨 or phone call 📞 from what appears to be your bank or building society asking for your security details, never reveal your full password, login details or account numbers. https://t.co/jbqEif49Df pic.twitter.com/UOWRqhXUte— Insurance Fraud Enforcement Department (@CityPoliceIFED) March 26, 2021
How to uncover if you’re an identity theft victim
Taking computer security seriously, monitoring your credit reports and your mail is a prerequisite today. Or, as the old saying goes, better to be safe than sorry.
Hopefully, this is a lesson learned for Ashton Kutcher, Tiger Woods, or Kim Kardashian – just a few examples of famous people who were targets of identity thieves.
Do you want to make sure you quickly figure out if you’re a victim of an identity theft scheme? Here are common signs you should take as a red flag:
- You see unfamiliar charges on your credit card statement;
- You receive medical bills for services you didn’t receive;
- You get an information letter from the IRS telling you that more than one tax return was filed in your name;
- You notice inaccuracies in your financial statements;
- You no longer receive billing statements in your mail.
Social media is no place for COVID-19 vaccination cards. When you post it to Facebook, Instagram, or some other social media platform, you may be handing valuable info over to someone who could use it for #identitytheft. https://t.co/tMBGv7R9GO— Stop Fraud Colorado (@StopFraudCo) March 21, 2021
12 ways to protect yourself from identity theft
Tackling cybersecurity issues is a daily endeavor not just for businesses but for individual users, too.
However, it would help if you did not view this as a struggle but as developing a safety habit, all in the name of protecting your valuable personal data.
Here are some easy ways you can protect yourself against identity theft:
- Create unique, complex passwords for each of your accounts and devices. If you believe one of your accounts has been compromised, change the password of that account. With CyberGhost ID Guard, you can check if your email addresses have been compromised and get an overview of your accounts, all in one place. With its ongoing monitoring service, ID Guard will alert you if your email addresses are ever involved in a breach.
- Enable two-factor authentication whenever possible. This way, even if your credentials leak, cybercriminals still won’t be able to access your data.
- Only make payments or insert your personal details on secure websites whose addresses begin with an “HTTPS.”
- Beware of phishing emails. Don’t click links, open attachments, or respond to emails from unfamiliar or untrusted sources, as they may contain malware.
- Use a VPN for all your online activities to shield your digital identity and stop online tracking.
- Set up alerts on your banking and credit card accounts. For example, you can ask your bank to notify you when there’s a withdrawal from your checking account.
- Be very careful where and to whom you give out your personal information — especially when you receive an unsolicited phone call.
- Don’t allow family members or friends to open accounts or sign up for credit cards using your information.
- Shred or blackout anything before throwing it out. Make sure your credit card, bank or investment statements, and even your junk mail is destroyed before reaching the bin.
- Make sure your mailbox is secure. Have your mail held when you’re out of town and investigate if a lockable mailbox is the right choice for you.
- Monitor all of your financial and medical statements. Read all the documents you get and make sure you recognize every transaction and service provided.
- Freeze your credit. Freezing your credit with the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — restricts access to your records. This protects you in a situation where an identity thief tries to use your data to open a new account.
What to do if your identity is stolen
If the worst has happened, here are the very first steps you can take:
- File a report with your local police department and your local trade commission agency.
- Inform the companies where scammers opened unauthorized accounts for you.
- Set a fraud alert and get your credit reports from a credit bureau.
The authorities will guide you through the rest of the process.
Did you ever suspect you are a victim of identity theft? How did you investigate to see if your suspicion was valid? Did you try to increase your privacy?
Let me know in the comments below.