With over thirty percent of people in America falling victim to some sort of identity theft, scam, spoofing or phishing, it’s not paranoid to say that you may be next. In fact, there may be a good chance for your bank account information or social security number to be stolen and misused, if you don’t take the right measures to protect your identity online. If you’ve never given much thought to protecting your internet identity, you need to know that there are various ways it can become jeopardized. While we can hardly predict the scope of cybercrime attacks in the future, we can show you the complete guide to protecting your identity in 2020. We will discuss different identity frauds both online and offline, advise the best techniques for protecting against such instances, and explain how to successfully recover from identity fraud. Prevent identity theft by learning and applying the valuable information offered below. And when it can’t be prevented, learn how to minimize your losses.
Consumer Affinity provides many learning based articles and videos for educational purposes on our Community platform, Split®.
Securing Your Accounts Online
Over a decade ago, when social media really took off, hardly anyone would guess how much of our lives would take place online. We are not just referring to chatting and the constant need to stay online, but also the need to put a large part of our lives out there. We unknowingly, or maybe even knowingly, decided to share our personal information with the world, and this was before anyone could guess the coming dangers of cybercrime. In the early days, social media accounts and profiles included information that we would refrain from sharing in today’s world. Since then, we’ve learned so much about how to protect our identities on Facebook, online, and on other social media platforms. While you may be wondering about the correlation between social media and monitoring your credit card and bank accounts for identity theft, the answer is quite simple and logical.
Leaving Digital Footprints
Most breaches of privacy are fed by information crumbs, aka digital footprints we leave online without realizing it’s happening. Even just browsing the Internet without logging onto anything means you’ve left some, albeit small, information behind. In other words, a cyber trail leading back to you. Don’t think it’s true? Google or browse an item on Amazon and then check your email or Facebook wall. Don’t be surprised to see an advertisement for that item. In today’s world, we are never too far away from screens or mobile devices that feed us information and entertainment, and we use them nearly incessantly. This has exacerbated the digital privacy problems and put us more at risk.
Ever since ‘creating a profile’ on social media became a thing, details about our lives became exposed to the outside world. It’s become fairly easy to detect where someone lives, how long they work, what financial institutions they frequent, etc. It used to be enough to guess someone’s password for an account by following up on their recent activity online. With the help of breaches over the years, accessing someone’s email or online accounts is now considered trivial.
Identity Theft Protection Measures
This means that, aside from having to worry about Facebook profile privacy, other accounts that are held by the same email address can be compromised. Once the data breach has been made in one place, other places, such as your bank, credit card, or email accounts could also be accessed quite easily. Some of the personal data found on your social account are the same as the data needed to either establish a financial account in a bank or reset an important password. Since data breaches have become quite common, Internet developers have introduced ways to protect your accounts from security risks like these. We now have two-factor identification, security questions, fingerprint readers on mobile apps, one-time passwords, password managers, and other ways of proving that an account is indeed ours. On top of everything that operating systems and browsers do to protect us, you also have companies like Consumer Affinity that protect your identity online with Credit Monitoring tools like Split®.
Keeping Track Of Passwords
While keeping track of your login information is vital to staying secure, with so many accounts nowadays, it can get difficult to keep up. You can’t very well remember all the combinations, and you shouldn’t use the same password for every account. So, what are we supposed to do with our credentials? We should be aware that there are tools called password managers that keep our passwords safe and in one place. There are also utilities that help protect us from viruses, spam, malware, and other hacking attempts. You also should be aware of the fact that, in order to protect your personal information and data, it won’t be enough to just change passwords or maintain unique passwords. Sometimes, an unprotected network or location can compromise you.
Revealing Sensitive Information
Even with all precautionary measures in place, identity theft still happens. For this, we can’t blame the security software, the institutions, or ourselves. If the information is out there, hackers might take the chance and use it to steal your identity. That is why we need to be extremely careful about what kind of information we are sharing and with whom we are sharing it. Most of us won’t go around shouting passwords at strangers, but if you happen to reveal your mother’s maiden name to someone online, they can take advantage of that. Furthermore, we should take the steps necessary to educate ourselves. Learning how to recognize scams or fraud attempts before we become victims helps reduce our online risk. If we do become victims, it can help us reduce our stress or financial losses by reacting quickly and with authority.
“What is your mother’s maiden name?” along with the questions about your pet’s name, your children’s dates of birth, and your favorite teacher or former boss, are among the most commonly used ‘security’ questions. These are some of the main details that ‘make up’ your Internet identity, and to protect yourself from identity theft means not showing this information to anyone online. Even better, don’t pick those questions at all. In general, no one should have access to your personal data, apart from the most trusted people.
Securing Your Network
There are online threats that can come through a number of channels. Keeping a safeguard over one while leaving others exposed isn’t protecting your virtual identity. It’s not enough that you keep your wireless router away from anyone who may be coming into your home. A third party can breach your network from miles away or right outside your home. Multiple precautions are necessary. First, do secure your wireless router: don’t broadcast your network ID, use strong encryption, and set up a good key. Next, make sure you change the default administrator password on all of your Internet-connected devices (Ring doorbells, Wifi connected thermostats, etc). The next smartest thing you can do to secure your network is installing a VPN. If you look up tips on protecting your identity online, one of the first things you will learn about is VPN. Some of these providers even allow you to protect your identity for free.
How does a VPN protect your identity?
Whether you’re using a private network or public network, with a VPN, your security is improved by securing all Internet communication channels and anonymizing your presence. Your home network may become compromised, and public wifi is highly insecure. Having a VPN helps protect you when you use either of these networks. There are other huge benefits for such a cheap service – it allows you to travel without worrying about how to protect your data. A VPN allows you to search the web without any location-related limits and is actively protecting your identity while traveling and using the Internet. For example, all of our emails will be encrypted instead of being sent in the clear.
Attack on Your Personal Finances
Over 50% of all identity fraud reported is made up of credit card fraud. A large majority of credit card fraud is related to creating new accounts with your name and details, but some are related to the accounts that already exist in your name. Among the top five identity theft and fraud reports are also tax fraud, cell phone account takeovers, and miscellaneous identity theft. Unfortunately, identity thieves have devised ingenious ways to commit different types of fraud. Hence, there is more than one type of credit card fraud:
- Counterfeit cards: this scam implies the use of either a ‘skimmer’ or ‘cloning’ device to read or duplicate your credit card.
- Card-not-present: this type of fraud requires no physical card for a fraud to take place. Only some information is needed, such as a social security number or a holder’s bank account information, and the fraud can be committed online. Additionally, stolen credit card numbers can be used online in apps like Lyft or Uber.
- Taking over an account: a thief or fraudster can claim to have lost access to his/her account and be quite convincing over email or phone that the account is, in fact, theirs. The bank will sometimes allow the new card to be sent out to the thief.
- Getting your credit card lost or stolen: we are all aware that, in a moment of shifted focus, we can become victims of a mugging or we can lose our wallet. If your card has been stolen, or you think you’ve lost it, you should go ahead and cancel them with your bank before someone decides to take advantage of them.
How to Not Become A Victim of Fraud
There are, of course, ways in which you can reduce the chances of becoming a victim of credit card fraud. Some of these include account and credit monitoring and frequently reviewing your credit history. Reviewing your credit details, along with bank and credit card accounts, will give you a closer look into your account activity. Provided you can account for every one of the payments made, you are in the clear. If you do check your credit details, bank accounts, and credit card accounts, and you think you’ve found a suspicious purchase, don’t hesitate to contact your bank or credit card company about it. Additionally, you may want to consider freezing your credit profile.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to go around freezing your credit profile account every time something suspicious happens. Many financial institutions will send fraud alerts to you. Fraud alerts can sometimes warn you if there is suspicious activity taking place, and you can either dismiss it as being your own charge or report it to your bank. Having alerts on your credit card may allow you to sleep better, and you won’t have to worry about someone financially ruining you, especially if you already have bad credit. Your bank should also regularly issue bank statements informing you of the previous month’s activity on your checking account. Or alternatively, you can frequently review all of your transactions online as they clear.
Even with alerts in place, you still should take precautions if you believe you’ve been a victim of Identity Theft. You should get into the habit of checking your credit scores and history, just to be on the safe side. There are sites that can make your scores and history accessible at any given time, and that’s us! Not only do we provide access to this information, but we provide $1 million in insurance, lost wallet recovery, and fully assisted identity recovery. We offer multiple resources that can be used to educate you about threats to your online safety. We write blogs, produce videos, and interact with people in the newsfeed area. Our community site is free.
Signs of Identity Theft
We often catch ourselves thinking that being defrauded won’t happen to us. We deem ourselves vigilant and well-aware of our surroundings, responsible for our personal belongings. We have already touched on willingly giving out information that may end up costing you more than just money. Most of us are aware that you can’t be too cautious and that you shouldn’t leave your property unattended. However, some signs still elude us, and sometimes it means becoming a victim of circumstance. In the case of identity theft, context and where we are in life matters.
Becoming a Victim of Circumstance
Unfortunately, identity theft can happen in a matter of seconds. Imagine, for a second, that you are paying for gas at the counter of a gas station and you remembered you needed something from the store too. If you’ve already given your card to the person behind the counter before you ran off to grab something, then he or she has more than enough time to make a copy of the numbers or the card itself.
We are in no way saying that everyone working behind a counter will end up scamming you and stealing your identity. We are simply posing a question/situation that, in reality, could happen to any of us. In a completely different scenario, a person can use your personally identifiable information to gain access to certain treatments or drugs. Someone could be using your social security card to benefit from your health insurance, as medical care can be quite expensive. This is called medical identity theft and is far from rare. In fact, medical identity theft stats are staggering compared to other instances of identity theft, such as tax-related identity theft.
Lastly, we may be more susceptible to identity theft depending on where we are in life. Our physical and emotional well-being can impact our decision-making abilities. If we’re sick or experiencing emotional trauma, we might be more likely to fall prey to a scam that results in loss of finances or our identity. This is one reason why criminals try to use psychological tricks on people. They’ll use anger, misdirection, misuse of authority, time, and of course, lies to get what they want. If we’re at a low emotional state because of financial issues, divorce, or we’ve lost a loved one (or a pet), we might not recognize the signs of identity fraud.
Other Types of Identity Theft
In some instances, warning signs may not be so obvious. There are so many documents and circumstances where your identity might become compromised that we felt the need to make you aware of documents carrying the potential to endanger you. You need to watch over your passport, driver’s license, credit cards, ATM card, identification, banking checks, and other documents carrying your name and SSN. Besides falling victim to financial identity theft or driver’s license identity theft, you can also come across insurance identity theft, synthetic identity theft, even child identity theft, if you have children.
Insurance Identity Theft
Someone might be after your insurance payouts or medical coverage that is provided by your insurance company. Whether you’re getting paid through a bank or you’re receiving treatment, insurance identity theft can be tied to financial or medical identity theft. As a result, it can become difficult to get medical insurance later on.
Synthetic Identity Theft
Even though the term sounds quite made up, the threat is very real. The fraudster might use some of the information from your identity and put it together with someone else’s information to create an artificial identity. Even if only your Social Security number is used with someone else’s name, this can still become a big problem for you in the future. These combinations can then help the thief get a car loan, open a bank account, and wreak virtual havoc on your potential loans and accounts.
Child and Elderly Identity Theft
We know what you’re thinking. A child can hardly open up a savings account or become exposed to fraud. However, things like identity theft are not so plain and simple. Children and seniors are among the most defrauded groups of people, and it’s because they have some ‘advantages’ compared to the rest of us. Children’s identities get stolen to provide an innocent, unspoiled background for an identity. It’s also referred to as a virtual ‘clean slate.’ They haven’t experienced any life events that would incur any suspicion.
Much like the synthetically made identities, these ones can be used to create documents, defraud the government, ask for loans, and plenty of other criminal activity. Elderly people can get involved in potentially dangerous scams easily by being naturally trustworthy, and that’s why thieves are targeting them. The most frequent cases seniors ‘fall’ for are cases of Internet phishing, which is a way of extorting information online by posing as a reputable company. That being said, there are scammers that pose as the senior’s relatives or try to defraud them posing as the IRS Tax or Microsoft Support.
Identities of the Deceased
Another argument in favor of the old saying ‘there’s no honor among thieves’ can certainly be applied in the case of stolen identities of the deceased. It turns out that not even the dead are safe from getting their names and credentials stolen for cold hard cash or benefits. The real threat behind these is that they come from public information, such as obituaries, and family members can discover that their loved one’s identity was hijacked years later. As many as 2.5 million deceased identities were stolen in 2018.
We hope to have given you a thorough rundown of identity theft and some terms that can come up when reading about it. In case this wasn’t enough, or you feel like reading more, we can refer you to an identity theft glossary to look for more obscure terms.
Understanding the basics of identity theft and fraud, crimes that relate to it, ways that information can be compromised, what options you have to protect yourself, and what to do if you’ve been victimized is essential to keeping ourselves safe. The more we know about identity theft, the more barriers and security measures we are able to install for our protection. It’s crucial we take our Internet security and privacy as seriously as our physical security. That is why we need help keeping data safe, storing our passwords, and practicing safe Internet usage. If we decide to neglect those, we may become the victim of an Internet impersonator or some other kind of imposter.
Even if you don’t consider yourself vulnerable, our mission here is to show you that anyone can be put in a situation that is rather difficult to explain and get out of. Hopefully, we’ve raised your awareness and shown you ways to protect your identity. There are many creative ways in which people can or will try to harm you, so stay informed and alert.
You’re always welcome to email, call, or chat with a Consumer Affinity representative on either our website chat or on social media like LinkedIn or Facebook.