The internet has made our lives infinitely easier. However, it has also shown how easy it is for hackers and scammers to access sensitive personal information. The FTC estimates that around 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year, and that almost 550 million personal records have been compromised since the year 2005.
In this blog post, we are going to learn about what identity theft is and how it happens, as well as some great tips for protecting your identity online.
What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is defined as any kind of deception, scam, or crime resulting in personal data loss. This can include but is not limited to the loss of usernames, passwords, banking information, credit card numbers, Social Security Numbers, and health identification numbers. This stolen data is then used to commit fraud and other crimes without your permission.
Sometimes identity theft is nothing more than an annoyance and can be resolved quickly. For example, let’s say you go to a store and use your credit card, then discover later that you do not recognize charges were made.
It is safe to assume that someone at the store stole your credit card information and used it without your permission. A call to your credit card company to report the fraud will freeze your account, and you will most likely not be held liable for any of the purchases you did not make.
But other times, identity theft is not that simple to fix. Recovering your identity can potentially cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars, take a long time to resolve, and cause damage to your reputation. This can include losing out on job opportunities and damage to your credit score, which means you can be rejected for education, home, or auto loans.
How Are Identities Stolen?
Now that you know what identity theft is, you might be wondering how it happens. There are many different ways that identity theft occurs, including some old school examples. Stealing credit card applications out of your mailbox, rummaging through your trash for discarded bills, or taking your wallet or purse are all ways that thieves can steal your identity in the real world. But nowadays, most identity theft takes place online.
Online identity theft generally involves taking advantage of human error. If you get an email that you believe is from a trustworthy source and click on a link inside, this can cause malware to be downloaded onto your computer or phone that steals your information. Using a wireless network that is insecure to do your browsing is another popular way to commit identity theft. Finally, doing something as simple as sharing your password with someone who is untrustworthy can have dire consequences.
What Are Some Tips For Protecting My Identity?
Protecting your identity may seem daunting now that you know how identity theft happens, but it is not all that complicated to do. Below are some simple yet effective steps you can take to safeguard your identity online:
- Use strong, up to date security software on your devices. This is the first thing you should do to protect your computer, phone, and tablet. Security software protects your devices and data against malware and other viruses. It is also crucial that you update the operating systems of your devices regularly. A VPN can offer you another layer of protection, especially if you use public WiFi frequently.
- Make sure your passwords are strong. Always use different passwords for your various accounts. These passwords should be over 10 characters long, utilize numbers and symbols, and not have anything to do with your personal information. Enabling two factor authentication on websites that offer it will give you an added layer of security that makes it harder for hackers to gain access to your accounts.
- Learn how to spot a scam. Some phishing scams that will infect your devices are easy to spot, but others are quite sophisticated. For example, you may get an email that appears to be from your bank, but if you click the link inside of it you are taking a gamble. It is usually best to go to the bank’s website yourself and find the information that relates to the subject matter of the email that way. Better safe than sorry!
- Only make purchases from reputable merchants. If an online store has poor reviews from other users, a bad rating from the Better Business Bureau, or they do not encrypt personal and financial information, you should buy your products from another source. A good rule of thumb is that an online store should always use the “https” URL prefix because it adds another layer of security that the “http” URL prefix does not have. If you do not see that prefix in the site’s URL, it is a good indicator that you should shop elsewhere.
- Stay vigilant when it comes to your personal information. There are many common signs of identity theft that will be obvious if you know what to look for. Here are a few of them:
- Information on your credit report, such as an address or a name, that does not belong to you and you do not recognize.
- Bills that come late or do not arrive at all.
- Receiving a new credit card in the mail that you did not apply for.
- Getting calls or notices about invoices or bills that you did not create.
- Having a credit approval request denied for no apparent reason, or getting stuck with a high interest rate when you do not believe you should be.