In the past, we were concerned about losing personal items like credit cards, ID cards, and PIN numbers. Today, we have much greater concerns when it comes to our personal information, much of which is stored online.
For example, according to Travelers' claim data, 44% of ID fraud cases still occur when a person's purse or wallet has been lost or stolen. But in addition to keeping personal items safe in the physical world, we also have to worry about our online safety and avoiding identity theft.
Identity theft is when someone steals your data and uses it to their financial advantage. It can take many forms, from synthetic identity theft, social media impersonation, catfishing on dating sites, financial identity theft, and more. When you have your financial identity stolen, you lose money. However, other forms of identity theft, like social media impersonation, may cause you to lose your reputation and social trust.
One of the most popular tools cybercriminals use to carry out online identity theft is spyware, a type of malware used to gather user data covertly. It comes in a variety of forms, including adware and keyloggers.
Cybercriminals also use tactics like “phishing” and “smishing” to steal financial data. Phishing is sending fake emails that appear to come from a credible source like a bank or credit card company. In contrast, smishing is a similar practice using SMS (Short Message Service) text messages instead of emails. In both cases, the objective is to trick the recipient into opening a dangerous attachment or link, giving the sender access to their data.
Why Care About Identity Theft?
The advent of one-click solutions that utilize smart devices and online accounts has made consumers more vulnerable to cybercriminals. “Covid 19 was essentially a gift to identity thieves,” Clifford Forrester, Chief Information Officer at Berdon LLP, says. “The pandemic brought about a shift in culture toward all types of remote transactions. As a result, we used remote methods whenever possible, and we still do so with little evidence of turning back to our previous practices.”
On the company's earnings call for the fourth quarter of 2021, PayPal's chief financial officer, John Rainey, stated that the company identified 4.5 million accounts believed to be illegitimate.
Similarly, the National Council of Identity Theft Protection reports that identity theft cases are at an all-time high due to various identity theft techniques. According to the same source, between 2020 and 2022, almost 50% of Americans fell victim to identity theft.
In light of current events, Clifford cautions the need to be vigilant even at work. He says there's a chance of increasingly dangerous and disruptive ransomware and phishing email attacks in response to the strict Western government sanctions against Russia.
Despite how sophisticated some cybercrimes may seem, identity theft is always at their core. According to Verizon, identity is a factor in 61% of security incidents, which means that most cybercrimes would be impossible to commit without a data breach.
Tips for Avoiding Identity Theft
Forrester shares the following tips to protect yourself.
- Check your mail daily – if it accumulates, you risk someone having the opportunity to intercept it and get ahold of sensitive information or documents.
- Monitor bills, statements, and accounts. If you don't receive your bills on time, contact your provider to look into any possible suspicious activity.
- Utilize security features on your mobile devices like two-factor authentication (TFA).
- Don't rely on companies to notify you. Scan your bank and credit statements for suspicious and unauthorized transactions.
- Shred unneeded statements, receipts, and old credit cards, among others, to prevent dumpster divers from extracting gold.
- When it comes to firewalls and virus-detection software, check that you are up-to-date with the latest technology.
- As much as you dislike the task, use complex passwords and change them regularly. Forrester recommends using a six-digit password.
- Review your credit report at least once every six months. Check any accounts that you did not open. You have the right to freeze your credit to prevent someone from applying for one in your name.
Protect Yourself at Work
- When interacting online, exercise caution and a healthy dose of skepticism.
- Before you click on any link, make sure you have read the URL by moving your mouse over the link.
- Don't click on anything you don't recognize. Delete any questionable emails and contact your IT service desk.
- When accessing a website, never enter your credentials (especially your company UserID) unless you are confident it is legitimate.
- Never operate with blind faith; keep in mind that not all client or vendor websites are secure.
Protect Yourself on Social Media
In addition, there are other ways to protect yourself on social media.
- Be selective about what you post or discuss on your timelines and profiles. Most social media platforms and applications ask you personal questions before displaying the answers on your profile. You make it easier for cybercriminals to use your information to create a fake account if you share too much. Maintain the privacy of your profile if an app permits it.
- Avoid or limit the sharing of third-party apps with your social media apps. Scammers can access data from all connected apps if one app is compromised.
- Delete old accounts. Scammers search for unused, outdated accounts with easy-to-hack passwords. Delete your account from an app if you don't use it.
- Do not display IDs as scammers can steal them.
Jenn Behrens is a Partner and Executive Vice President of Privacy at Kuma LLC. Behrens recommends victims of identity theft take immediate action to mitigate the damage and recover from this harrowing experience.
In the short term, she recommends calling companies where you suspect fraudulent transactions and the issuers of any card or accounts that may have been breached or altered. “Following that, you should place a fraud alert on your credit reports and notify the FTC of the incident. Keep track of who you called, when, and what happened. This record may be useful in the future when reassessing the impact of the fraud,” says Behrens.
Human elements, according to Verizon, continue to drive breaches. Scammers exploit human errors, so to prevent theft, you must continue to keep valuables like computers, phones, and credit cards secure. Additionally, ensure firewalls and cloud security configurations are correct to protect your home network.
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This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock.
Amaka Chukwuma is a freelance content writer with a BA in linguistics. As a result of her insatiable curiosity, she writes in various B2C and B2B niches. Her favorite subject matter, however, is in the financial, health, and technological niches. She has contributed to publications like ButtonwoodTree and FinanceBuzz in the past. In addition to ghostwriting for brands like Welovenocode, Noah and Zoey, and Ohcleo, amongst others. You can connect with her on Linkedin and Twitter.