This guide outlines clearly what identity theft is, strategies to avoid and prevent it, and how to report identify theft if it’s happened to you.
The statistics on identity theft are enough to make your head spin. Just glance at your watch: every two seconds, there’s a new identity theft victim. And, according to AARP, the numbers are on the rise. For example, in 2018, there were 444,344 reports. In 2019, the number jumped to 650,523. And in 2020, the number grew to a whopping 1,387,615 — an increase of 113%. The sad part is, those are the reported numbers. Many people didn’t report their theft, out of embarrassment or for some other reason. 12 simple ways to stay safe online
How to report identity theft, avoid and prevent it
If you use social media, your risk of being a victim of identity theft increases by 46%. And once a cybercriminal takes over your account, 40% of fraud will happen within 24-hours. Surprisingly, children are more likely to be victims of identity theft than adults, with over 1 million kids experiencing identity theft in 2017. While the numbers are striking, there are many things you can do to avoid it, and prevent it from happening in the first place and also find out How to educate children about cyber grooming.
What identity theft is
So, what is identity theft? There are many different ways to answer that question, and there are many different types of identity theft, but it all boils down to this: identity theft happens when an unauthorized person uses your Personally Identifying Information (PII), like your name, address, Social Security number or credit card or bank information to assume your identity to commit fraud.
Cybercriminals will create credit cards and bank accounts using your information with no intention of ever repaying the charges they make or funds they steal. That’s financial identity theft, and it’s the leading type of identity theft there is. Other types include medical identity theft, where a thief uses your information to get medical services or medications; child identity theft, where cybercrooks steal your child’s Social Security number and open all types of charge and credit accounts – that won’t show up for years until the child applies for their own accounts, or goes off to college, or looks for employment.
The newest type of identity theft is synthetic identity theft,where a cybercriminal steals some type of valuable information like a Social Security number and merges it with fictitious names, addresses and other phony information. This creates a completely new person who really doesn’t exist, and the cybercriminal then goes on to commit all types of financial or other fraud using that newly created identity.
How to avoid identity theft
Identity thefts cost consumers over $56 billion, and that number is moving up. Plus, it takes a lot of time and effort to mitigate the theft when it’s discovered, so avoiding identity theft in the first place is the best course of action. You can start by keeping your eye on your wallet and your credit cards. Never let them out of your sight, and never carry your Social Security card in your wallet. If your wallet is stolen, immediately freeze your credit with all credit bureaus.
If you shop online, be sure to only use a secure website. And be sure to use strong passwords, with a different one for every account you have. A strong password is 10 characters and numbers long, so it’s hard to generate them and keep track of them. Instead, use a password manager software like Dashlane, Keeper and RoboForm.
Make sure you use security software on your computer and devices, like TrendMicro, Bitdefender and Avast, among others. If you use a computer in a public space, never use the public WiFi network, as that’s how cyberthieves steal your passwords and other private information. Instead, use a virtual private network (VPN) to log on, like HotSpot Shield, SurfShark and NordVPN and understand How to improve router network security. And How to secure your Mac computer: expert tips to stay safe.
How to prevent identity theft
To prevent identity theft, the first move should be to remove all of your unauthorized personal information from people-search sites. That’s where cybercrooks gather a lot of the information they use to commit identity theft.
Update your operating system every time there’s an update available. This keeps all the security features current, and prevents cybercrooks who have cracked the last operating system from using it again. Also, be sure to review your bank statements and credit card statements, looking for any unusual charges or transactions.
You should also check your credit report to make sure that nothing is amiss. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has a free credit report request form that you can use to check your credit history. If anything looks out of place, freeze your credit and report it.
Brief guide of tips to protect your identity:
- Destroy personal documents. Hackers still literally resort to “garbage container diving” to get personal information they can exploit, such as records and statements
- Only pass on your Social Security number to well-known entities. Keep the actual number in a safe place.
- Shop online only in well-known facilities and check again to see if it is not a hacker-operated faux site. Take a close look at the actual URL and make sure they are running SSL to make sure the page is the real thing.
- Carry only the credit/debit cards you absolutely need and secure the rest in a safe place
- Monitor your credit report regularly and respond quickly to false or suspicious information you see.
- Check your bank statements carefully and report unrecognized transactions immediately.
- Do not share personal information on social media. Hackers are increasingly using social media to research and target specific individuals. Knowing personal data is a great help for them to commit Identity Theft.
- Not only delete sensitive information on your computer. Use a full-delete method to make sure it’s really gone.
- Use secure passwords. This means at least 8 characters with combinations of upper and lowercase letters, alpha and numbers, and a special character.
- Apply internet security to ensure that you are not the victim of malware, i.e. spyware and keylogger programs.
How to report identity theft
If you find that you’ve become a victim of identity theft, report it to the FTC and create a recovery plan. The FTC has prepared a video that outlines the steps to take if you’ve become a victim. In addition, they have a list of attorneys who work with identity theft victims to help them develop a recovery plan and outline the steps needed to gain back their identity.
Legal action in the event of identity theft
Anyone should know how to report identity theft following the section above, and then file criminal charges, whether it’s money or their reputation they have lost. When attackers obtain and misuse personal data, laws are broken, such as a ban on spying and intercepting data and computer fraud. Companies may also be liable to prosecution or behave unlawfully if they lose their customers’ personal data or pass it on to third parties without permission.
Cyber bullying in connection with identity abuse is also illegal and may violate, among other things, the right of personality, the stalking ban and other legal regulations.
Those who have been financially harmed have far better chances in court if they have handled their data carefully. For example, the general terms and conditions require banks to take special care from the customer when banking online. However, sometimes this does not apply if the customer behaves grossly negligently. Examples are when someone freely discloses their online banking identification numbers to third parties or falls for all-too-obvious fraud attempts. Exactly which behaviour is classified as “grossly negligent” always depends on the individual case. In any case, the customer is only liable until he has informed his bank of the abuse. The faster the abuse is reported, the better.
But even if identity theft is a criminal offence, it is often difficult to prosecute the perpetrators. For example, phishing websites can be localized, but are scattered on servers around the world. For the authorities, therefore, identity abuse is often difficult to punish. That’s why it’s all the more important to be careful with your data to protect yourself from attackers.
By understanding what identity theft is and the different types of identity theft, you’ll become a smarter consumer, especially if you use social media or the Internet. Review the steps to avoid identity theft, and pay close attention to the tactics used to prevent identity theft from occurring in the first place. You’ll have peace of mind and a much safer online experience.