It’s Important to Protect Yourself From Online Identity Theft
I have a friend who had his identity stolen, and his life was torn apart when he became a victim of online identity theft. When he told me about it I decided to do a little research and write an article about it. Hopefully, this article can help you protect yourself from online identity theft.
Online identity theft is when your personal information is stolen and then used in an attempt to commit fraud. The identity thief may use your personal information to apply for credit, open bank accounts, get medical services, or even file a tax return. When you become a victim of online identity theft you are vulnerable to losing bank accounts, experiencing a bad credit reputation, and having to spend countless hours restoring your good name.
What You Can do to Protect Your Identity on the Internet
In today’s landscape, nothing online is safe and protected against acts of malicious criminals. According to a recent study by Pew Research Center data breaches have exposed the personal information of 64% of all Americans. The need to protect yourself from online identity theft is greater than ever. Many of these victims experience various levels of harm in many areas.
Out of all the victims here’s a breakdown of damage:
- 41% had to deal with fraudulent credit card charges,
- 35% had account numbers and other personal information compromised,
- 16% were victims of email account takeovers and breaches,
- 15% had their social security numbers exposed,
- 14% notice suspicious activity with credit and loan applications,
- 13% experience social media takeovers, and
- 6% had fraudulent tax returns filed under their name.
It is evident by the results of the study if you don’t protect yourself from online identity theft the consequences can be devastating.
Security is the technologies and methods that protect against unauthorized access to data.
Privacy is the act of protecting Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and other sensitive information.
Identity Theft Statistics and Trends
The Federal Trade Commission publishes a resource called “Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book.” The data shows that last year over 167,000 people reported a credit card account that was opened fraudulently with their stolen information. Also, consumer fraud complaints included imposter scams and illegitimate debt collection processes.
As more people begin working from home the criminals have shifted their target towards the vulnerabilities that exist in work-at-home environments. It is becoming more difficult to protect yourself from online identity theft Cybercriminals are exploiting consumers using fear tactics related to COVID-19.
Consumers must remain wary of criminals using such fear tactics to exploit our human nature in an attempt to steal personally identifiable information (PII). For more information and tips to stay safe while working from home read this article. This resource can help protect you from online identity theft.
How to Protect Yourself From Online Identity Theft
4 Tips to Protect Yourself From Online Identity Theft While Working From Home.
- Protect All of Your Devices — Make sure all your devices are protected with anti-virus and anti-malware software. Don’t forget to protect mobile devices.
- Take Care When Clicking on Email Links — Malicious email links are common. Always hover over the link before clicking and verify that it is going where it says it will go. These types of fishing attacks come in many looks. Be skeptical of emails from strangers or random job offers.
- Limit the Access to Your business device — When working from home you should have at least one device that is dedicated to business. Take extra care about who has access to that device. Back it up regularly and store the backup online or off-premises if possible. Always use a VPN when online. For more information about virtual private networks, read this article. VPNs are easy to set up and to use.
- Secure Your Home Network — Sounds obvious, but many home workers are used to the corporate environment where the network is secured by their IT people. At home it is your responsibility. Don’t hesitate to contact your work IT team for advice. For more information on securing your home network, read this article.
Types of Offline and Online Identity Theft
In today’s landscape there are many ways criminals can steal your identity. They use many types of techniques to get your personal information. Your job is to protect yourself from online identity theft.
As humans, we have common habits that make it easier for criminals to get our information. The smallest piece of information can lead to bad things happening. Criminals can take multiple pieces of what seems like non-important information and construct a plan to harm you.
Let’s look at the types of Identity theft that you should be aware of. Remember, it’s your responsibility to protect yourself from online identity theft. There are also ways you can help prevent physical pieces of information from falling into the wrong hands.
8 Types of Identity Theft
1) Synthetic Identity Theft — This is where criminals will use a combination of real data and made-up data to create a single fake identity. This type of identity theft mainly hurts banks and retailers, but if they happen to use your social security number it will harm you.
2) Inheritance or Estate Identity Theft — This is when the identity of a deceased person has been stolen and is then used to empty bank accounts, apply for new loans, or reroute, or obtain federal benefits. This type of identity theft can harm family members and friends of the deceased.
3) Takeover of an Existing Account Identity Theft — This is a widespread problem. By taking over an existing account they can use the stolen identity to make credit card charges, transfer funds, and other things depending on the type of account. This type of theft can be detected by checking your accounts on a weekly basis.
4) Tax Identity Theft — Once a criminal has obtained your personal information filing a fake tax return is a way for the criminal to get what they’re after. There reward is receiving a refund that was meant for you.
5) New Account Creation Identity Theft — Criminals use a variety of techniques to open a new account under your name. Since you’ll never receive a statement on this account you won’t know it exists. To defend against this type of identity theft it is recommended to use a credit monitoring service. This way you will be notified when a new account has been applied for.
6) Employment Identity Theft — A person that has a criminal record or bad credit may use someone else social security number to get a job, using your name also. This type of identity theft can affect taxes and social security benefits. This type of theft can be spotted by monitoring soft inquiries within your credit reports.
7) Your Childs Identity Theft — Even the consumers that regularly check their accounts and credit reports often forget to make inquiries concerning their children. This, if undetected can go on for years and be totally unnoticed until the youngster is old enough and applies for some type of loan, School, etc. If you receive any tax notices concerning your child or are declined government benefits contact a credit bureau and conduct a manual check for the child.
8) Medical Insurance and Services Identity Theft — This can affect the validity of your medical records, create bills in your name, and interfere with future medical insurance applications. This type of identity theft can be hard to detect.
Phishing and Social Engineering Attacks
“ONLY AMATEURS ATTACK MACHINES.
PROFESSIONALS TARGET PEOPLE.”Bruce Schneider, cryptographer, computer security and privacy specialist
Useful Tips to Stop Malware, Credential Phishing, and Email Fraud
Most of today’s Malware and phishing attacks rely on the habits and weaknesses of us humans. Distracted users may click on a malicious link or open an attachment without thinking. Users must stay diligent in spotting suspicious links and attachments. It is your responsibility to protect yourself from online identity theft.
Be aware of email and website spoofing. Bad actors create fake websites that appear just like the real ones. They attempt to collect personal information and data from you. Always double-check URLs and website links carefully. Beware of emails that may appear to be from someone you know, but are being spoofed. Criminals masquerade as familiar people and entities and use email to capture your valuable personal information.
Criminals also use a sense of urgency to get you to click malicious links or fill out malicious forms that are intended to steal your personal information. Emails may state that you need to be one of the first one hundred people to respond, or fake websites may be offering huge online discounts if you act now!
Identity Theft Versus Identity Fraud
While both identity theft and identity fraud can have adverse effects on our lives, the nature of the harm varies between the types. No matter on hard you work to protect yourself from online identity theft there are times when criminals exploit resources that are out of your control.
Knowing the differences between identity theft and identity fraud may help you to protect yourself, realize when you have become a victim, and how to best deal with it when it happens.
When your private, personal, or financial information has been stolen and used by someone to appear to be you that is identity theft. Thieves use the information to open charge accounts and bank accounts. They also may file fraudulent tax returns, use your name with law enforcement, or file false healthcare claims.
The following types of information should only be shared when necessary and should be protected at all times:
- Social Security Number
- Date of Birth
- Street Addresses and P.O. Boxes
- Credit Card Numbers
- Bank Account Information
An occurrence as common as a stolen or lost wallet can reveal enough information for a criminal to steal your identity. As careful as you may be, things like this happen. Never carry your social security card in your wallet. Maintain a list of account numbers and contact information to assist in reporting the loss to your creditors and bankers. A lost or stolen smartphone can also lead to exposure to personal information. Always passcode your phone, and enable a tracking feature to assist in recovering it. Safeguarding your personal information is the best way to protect yourself from online identity theft.
Identity fraud is typically a crime committed after a thief has stolen your identity. Identity fraud does not only hurt the retailer or the business where the fraud is conducted but also hurts the person whose identity has been stolen. Another facet of identity fraud is that the identity used may not be stolen at all, it may be a completely fake identity that was made up using different types of personal information, some real and some fake.
Here are some examples of identity fraud:
- Opening False Credit Card Accounts
- Obtaining Fake Passports or Identification Cards
- Making False Loan Applications
- Opening False Bank Accounts
- Making Fraudulent Withdrawals
- Falsifying Criminal Records
The false accounts created under your name, and the fraudulent charges made, are your responsibility until successfully disputed. This will have a negative impact on your credit report, perhaps stay on it for a long time. This highlights the importance of protecting yourself from online identity theft to start with. And, as mentioned earlier regularly checking credit reports can help to identify these types of fraud early on.
How to Report and Recover From Identity Theft
Prevention, detection, and mitigation are all part of protecting your identity and maintaining good standing in the financial arena. Reporting the theft and fraud is the first step to mitigating and or minimizing damage.
Report identity (ID) theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) online at IdentityTheft.gov or by phone at 1-877-438-4338. This resource can help you to report and recover from identity theft. Here are the three steps to get started:
- Them What Happened — Whether online or by contacting them on the phone, tell them what happened. They will ask you some questions, so be prepared with as much information as you can. This first step will help to assure you that you doing all you can.
- Get a Recovery Plan — based on your situation and the information you have supplied them with they will create a personal plan of action for you. Now you’ll have a plan, providing guidance to keep you on the right track.
- Put Your Plan Into Action — At this point, you can create an account. Once the account is created, the people at IdentityTheft.gov will walk you through each step. They will assist in updating your plan as necessary, as they track your progress. They will assist in creating necessary letters and filling out the needed forms. At this point, you will feel better knowing you are not alone in this battle to recover from identity theft and fraud.
At this link located on the IdentityTheft.gov website, you will find a list of things to do right away and a list of things to do next. It also covers additional steps you may need to take. In addition, there is information regarding actions that need to be taken regarding specific types of accounts.
12 Tips to Protect Your Bank
Accounts From Identity Theft
1) Check your credit report for new accounts or unusual activity
2) Watch credit card activity and check bank statements often
3) Be unique – use strong passwords
4) Mind your mailbox and monitor your mail service
5) Shred your documents before disposing
6) Be more private on social media – including birthdates
7) Be wary of strangers asking questions
8) Don’t fall for email phishing scams
9) When shopping online – look for “HTTPS://” “S” means secure
10) Keep computers and other devices secure
11) Avoid Public/Open networks
12) Get help from your bank – sign up for alerts
Read more: Protect yourself from online Identity theft
Read more: Understanding the Deep Web and the Dark Web
Featured photo by Jason Dent