Avoiding Identity Theft
Identity theft is a serious crime. Protecting yourself from identity theft is very important, as victims of this kind of crime can find that it may take a very long time to recover, and may be costly! Learning to safeguard your personal data is important in preventing yourself from being a victim.
Let’s dig a little deeper.
Identity theft happens when someone uses information about you without your permission. They could use your:
- name and address
- credit card or bank account numbers
- Social Security number
- medical insurance account numbers
Why should I care if someone steals my identity?
You will be responsible for what the thief does while using your personal information. You might have to pay for what the thief buys. This is true even if you do not know about the bills.
How can that happen?
- A thief might get a credit card using your name.
- He changes the address.
- The bills go to him, but he never pays them.
- That means the credit card company thinks you are not paying the bills.
- That will hurt your credit.
This is the kind of trouble identity theft can cause for you.
What can a thief do with my personal information?
An identity thief can use your name and information to:
- buy things with your credit cards
- get new credit cards
- open a phone, electricity, or gas account
- steal your tax refund
- get medical care
- pretend to be you if they are arrested
Knowing how to protect yourself from identity theft will make the chances of it happening to you much less likely.
There are many ways thieves can obtain your personal information!
Dumpster diving: Criminals may go through your garbage or your recycling looking for bank statements, credit card offers, and other papers that could allow them to apply for accounts in your name.
Robbery: If you experience a break-in at home or if you are mugged, thieves may be less interested in stealing physical goods and more interested in obtaining personal documents such as birth certificates and Social Security cards, which they could use to steal your identity or sell for a pretty price on the dark web.
Phishing: Scammers may be able to steal private information electronically by sending unsolicited emails that contain software that searches computers and other devices for personal and financial data.
Phone scams: Criminals may simply call people on the phone and pretend to be an established organization, such as the IRS or a bank, in order to convince individuals to give up their personal and financial information over the phone.
Data dumps: Sophisticated hackers can rifle through the private customer data of retail stores, medical facilities, and credit card companies in order to access credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, and other identifying information.
If you use your computer or phone on a public network—airport, department store or coffee shop Wi-Fi—hackers may be able to “eavesdrop” on your connection.
This means that if you type in a password, bank account or credit card number, Social Security number or anything else, an eavesdropper can easily intercept it and use it for their own purposes.
Mobile Phone Theft
Smartphones are a treasure trove of information for identity thieves, especially if your apps allow you to log in automatically without a password or fingerprint. If someone manages to steal and unlock your phone, it could allow them to view the information found in your apps, as well as in your emails, text messages, notes and more.
Make sure your phone locks with a secure passcode, biometric screening is set up properly and your passwords aren’t stored in plain text anywhere on your phone.
Some thieves use a skimming device that easily can be placed over a card reader on an ATM or a fuel pump without looking out of the ordinary. When somebody swipes a debit or credit card at a compromised machine, the skimmer reads the information from the card’s magnetic stripe and either stores it or transmits it. A criminal can then use this information to make purchases.
You could be doing things that compromise your own privacy and put you at risk for identity theft. Oversharing or not making your social media accounts private enough may leave you vulnerable to identity theft. Just by looking through your social media accounts, a hacker may be able to identify your full name, home address, birthdate, and phone number. Armed with this simple information, criminals may be able to apply for credit cards or medical insurance, open a bank account, or even sign up for a driver’s license under your name.
Along with your social media accounts, the digital footprints you leave behind while online can be very risky in terms of identity theft. For example, logging on to public and unprotected Wi-Fi can leave you vulnerable to hackers, who could then use the Internet connection to glean all kinds of private information from your laptop, tablet, or phone. If you do use a public Wi-Fi connection, be careful about what information you send and receive. You should also check the web address and make sure that the name in the address bar matches the name of the establishment offering the service. Using a VPN to connect to public Wi-Fi can help minimize risks, as well.
Here are some tips on how to protect yourself from identity theft.
Even the most vigilant person can become the victim to identity theft. ID thieves are cunning and sneaky and can in some cases even fool you into giving up important information. ID thieves aren’t always strangers, either. Oversharing to anyone could put you at risk of ID theft.
Even if you are very careful, criminals may still be able to access your information and steal your identity through data breaches. With the recent Equifax data breach, over 145 million people now have the potential to become victims of identity theft. Adding an extra layer of protection to your digital life by using an identity theft protection service could prove very useful. Such services can help protect your personal information by sending you alerts if suspicious activity is identified within their network, or if new accounts are opened with your Social Security number.
While technology constantly adapts to new threats, hackers and scammers adapt too, which makes helping protect against identity theft a challenge. Playing offense against hackers by helping to protect your personal information online is important, but to fully safeguard your identity, you need some defense as well. You could also use security software on your devices.
If you happen to suspect that you are a victim of ID theft, here are steps you should take immediately:
The very first thing you should do is visit identitytheft.gov to report it. This is a website set up by the Federal Trade Commission. Your report on this site will help you get