Identity Theft Prevention - How Do You Avoid Identity Theft

Identity Theft Prevention - How Do You Avoid Identity Theft

While the internet makes our life easier, it also makes us more prone to being the victim of digital crimes such as identity theft.

We share a lot of personal information online with our peers, sometimes even more than we realize. This makes it easy for criminals to target us for stealing sensitive data so they can steal our identities and misuse it for their own gains.

So how do you protect yourself from identity theft in the online world?

In this post, we'll go over what identity theft is, how it happens, what can someone do if your identity gets stolen and how to avoid being a victim of identity theft.


What is identity theft?

Identity theft refers to someone stealing your personal information and using it without your knowledge. This information includes names, usernames and passwords, credit card numbers, banking information, Social Security Numbers, and health ID. Identity thieves use this data to commit fraud or other crimes.

In some situations, identity theft is only a small inconvenience and can easily be solved. But in many cases, recovering your identity after it has been stolen is a long process that can take months and a huge amount of money from your pocket. Moreover, identity theft can affect one's life by damaging their reputation, causing problems with job opportunities, failing to apply for loans because of the damaged credit score.


How often does identity theft occur?

It has been estimated by the Federal Trade Commission that 9 million Americans are subjected to identity theft every year. This number fluctuates as both cybercrime fighting methods and the tactics identity thieves use to steal people's information are changing over time.

In 2012, the FTC Consumer Sentinel Network received around 360,000 identity theft related complaints. This number grew every year between 2001 and 2012, in 2001 only around 80,000 complaints being made.

The most common identity theft complaints are:

  • Government documents / Benefits fraud
  • Credit card fraud
  • Phone/Utilities fraud
  • Bank fraud
  • Employee-related fraud
  • Loan fraud

In 2006, 5% of people age 16+ (1.7 million) were victim to identity theft, resulting in a $17 billion financial loss.

What can we draw from these identity theft statistics? Well, a great number of American fall prey to identity theft each year. But if we think about how large the population of the US is, identity theft is not something extremely common. Also, institutions are more prone to fall victim to identity theft rather than individuals.

Still, the dangers of identity theft are not something to overlook, especially nowadays when technology makes us share more and more private information about us out in the open.


How does identity theft occur?

Identity thieves have various ways to get their hands on your personal information. From being at the right place at the right time and using traditional methods, to using more sophisticated tools that the digital world provides.

The dumpster - One common way for identity thieves to steal your private information is to search through your trash. If they find credit card or bank statements, or, worst, ta forms with Social Security number they can use this data to steal your identity.

Mail - Same as with going through your dumpster, identity thieves can go searching through your mailbox in search for valuable personal information. That's why it is a good idea to always use a lock on your mailbox.

Data breaches - Data breaches can happen if an employee gets tricked into clicking a malicious link or leaves a non secured computer unattended, allowing someone to steal employees personal information.

Phishing - Phishing is a common tactic criminal use to steal people's private information. They usually send emails containing malicious links or attachments.

Unsecured internet connections - Identity thieves often target their victims where there are the highest vulnerabilities in the network - public WiFi. They set up fake WiFi networks or exploit the vulnerabilities of one's device to steal valuable personal information.


What can identity thefts do?

If it happens for someone to steal your identity, what can they do?

  • Open new lines of credit in your name
  • Change your mailing address on your credit card account
  • Establish phone service or other utilities charged to you
  • Open bank accounts in your name
  • Wipe out your bank account
  • Apply for loans in your name
  • Use your name if they commit crimes

Identity theft safety tips

1. Use strong passwords

Using strong passwords is a must to keep yourself safe and secure in the online world. It's crucial that the passwords you use for each of your accounts are hard to guess and strong enough to make it hard for a tool to run them up. If an identity thief manages to find out your passwords, he will get access to your personal information and he will be able to log in to your financial accounts.

The passwords you use should follow the below guidelines:

  • Never use the same password twice.
  • Use at least 10 characters.
  • Use sentences instead of single words.
  • Add numbers and special characters.
  • Never use your name, birth date, your pets or mother's name. This information is easy to find out with a simple online search and it will be the first thing a criminal will look for.

Managing various, complex passwords might sound like a lot of work, but there are password managers that make it extremely easy for you to remember all the passwords and keep your accounts safe online.

2. Keep the information you share at a minimum

One of the most important aspects of preventing identity theft is to keep the amount of personal data you share online at a minimum. The things you share on social media with your friends can be easily found by someone who would try to dig more personal information about you. Even if you choose to share the information only with your friends, you might find out that the friends of your friends and their friends might be able to see it.

Stay away from oversharing your location, address, phone number, or other sensitive information about yourself. It's advised to also stay away from oversharing when you go on trips and vacations. Criminals might try to find you when you are away from home so they can not only burglar your house, but also go through your mailbox in search for forms containing private information such as your Social Security Number.

3. Protect your computer

Hackers and cybercriminals often steal people's private information by exploiting one's computer vulnerabilities. That's why it is crucial you take all the necessary precautions when it comes to keeping your computer protected. There are a couple of things you should take care right away to make sure you make it hard for someone o installs malware on your computer and gaining access to your private information.

Install antivirus software - An antivirus software is essential to keep your computer safe against viruses, worms, and other types of malware.

Use a firewall - By using a firewall you get more control over the network packets that communicate with your computer. A firewall acts as a shield between your device and the internet, only allowing trustworthy sources to send or receive data from your computer.

Keep your device updated - An outdated operating system represents a great vulnerability for your online security and it's something a hacker can easily exploit. Make sure your operating system is always up to date to prevent someone from getting access to your computer and stealing your private information and identity.

4. Secure your mobile devices

Nowadays, we use our smartphones for almost anything we do online. surfing through social media, checking emails, online shopping, checking out bank accounts, and many more actions that require us using private data.

This means that your smartphone is carrying lots of private information. if someone gets his hands on all the information on your mobile device, he could probably gather enough data to steal your identity and money. To prevent identity theft through your mobile device, it's important that you add enough layers of security so no one can get access to your phone even if it gets stolen.

Make sure you always lock your screen with a strong password. For even more security, don't turn away from using your fingerprints. Also, to make sure no one can get access to your data, secure your files by using encryption software.

If you want to learn more about how to secure your smartphone properly, take a look over our guide with the best tips.

5. Avoid phishing scams

Cybercriminals and identity thieves use different types of phishing scams to trick people into giving them private information so they are able to steal their identities and money. It's important you are aware of these scams so you don't fall in their trap.

The most common phishing scam happens through emails. Someone will send you a fake email designed to look as coming from a trustworthy company. Often times, it will look as coming from your bank or insurance company. They will ask you to click on a link in the email. It will take you to a webpage that will also look genuine when, in fact, it's just another fake set up to steal your personal data. You'll be asked to provide your username and password, name, and even your credit card details. Needless to say, once you fill in the data, the criminal will get access t your bank account and private information.

Keep in mind that trustworthy companies will never require you to provide such personal data via email. Always be wary about the emails you open and who you respond to. These emails can also contain malicious attachments that will install malware on your computer once you install them.

6. Be wary about the websites you visit

Not all the websites you visit online are safe and secure. Some of them are actually quite dangerous to visit, containing different types of hidden malware.

Never visit an HTTP website as these websites have no security layer. Most importantly, never make online purchases from an HTTP site.

When you want to go to a website, make sure it is HTTPS and you see the lock icon next to the search bar. You can also make use of browser extensions, such as HTTPS Everywhere. This extension will push websites to use an HTTP connection instead of HTTP if it is available.

Also, when you're making purchases online, be wary about the websites you buy from. Take a close look to see if the website is genuine, what kinds of reviews it has, and how long have it been on the market. This will prevent identity theft by giving the wrong people your private information.

7. Don't use public WiFi for transactions

Public WiFi networks are the most dangerous for one's online security. These networks are not secure and are the most vulnerable, making it easy for hackers and cybercriminals to exploit them.

You should never use a public WiFi network to log in to your accounts, online shop, or making money transactions. If a hacker manages to interfere with the connection, or if it's a fake WiFi set up by a criminal, your private information will be exposed and you can fall victim to identity theft.

If you're regularly using public WiFi in coffee shops, hotels, venues, and so on, you can keep yourself safe by using a VPN service. A VPN will encrypt all the data that's being transmitted between your device and the internet. even if someone manages to get hold of the data, he won't be able to read it because it is encrypted.

8. Protect your Social Security Number

Your Social Security Number is the most valuable piece of information an identity thief can get its hands on so it's crucial that you protect it. Make sure your SSN doesn't appear on forms that others might see such as your driver's license or your health or insurance card. Also, never carry your Social Security card in your pocket.

9. Monitor your credit history

Regularly request credit card reports to keep an eye for any suspicious activity. If your state allows it, lock down your credit card reports. This will prevent anyone from accessing your credit card report without your permission, making it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts using your name.


Conclusion

As you've seen, even though cybercriminals most often target institution for identity theft, individuals can also become the target of such fraud. And it is best to take preventive measures against identity theft rather than having to deal with the consequences.

Most importantly:

  • Make sure your computer and mobile phone are secured with antivirus software and updated operating systems
  • Never use public WiFi for logging into accounts or money transactions without a VPN service
  • Be mindful about the information you share online, especially on social media
  • Learn about phishing scams so you don't fall into their trap
  • Always be wary about the links you click online and the websites you visit and don't shop from HTTP websites

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Diana Soare