Paying for someone else’s vacation and expensive purchases isn’t at all fun. Especially if you have no idea who that person is, and your identity has been stolen. Most of us have personal information and private details available online (whether we want it or not). You won’t be happy to learn that incidents involving cybercrime are on the rise, and you could be their next victim. In order to find out how to protect your identity and what to do if you think someone has stolen your identity, stick around to find out more.
How Can Someone Steal My Identity?
There is more than one way someone can get to your personal information and steal it. Stealing personal information isn’t much of an art, as people are not exactly careful when sharing information online. And we’re not just at risk because of our own choices, but we’re also dependent on companies to protect our information (or not as the unfortunate case might be). It’s not a simple problem by any stretch of the imagination, but with the continued proliferation of the criminal industry and their tools of the trade, unsuspecting victims are not hard for cybercriminals to find. We are not even aware of how much we share online or how many times we have entered information into an illegitimate site. For example, someone might send you an email stating that your Apple account has been suspended. This type of attack is called “Phishing.” When you click the link, you’d be redirected to a website that has been cloned to look like the original. This is known as “Pharming,” which is still a type of Phish. If it’s done over the phone, it’s Vishing, but if it’s done via a text, it’s Smishing. We explain these terms and more on Consumer Affinity’s Community platform, Split® .
Apart from posing as an authority online to gain access to your information, the theft can begin even in the most dated of ways. Taking advantage of a momentary distraction or preoccupation, a thief can steal your wallet and all its contents, and you might not notice until later. Before going dumpster diving in the area where you think you might have lost it, remember that unlike what happens with petty theft, identity thieves don’t just want your cash. They want information that will give them access to your bank accounts or result in their stealing larger amounts of money. If your ID card or driver’s license is ever lost or stolen, consider this as a possibility. Cybercriminals can steal your credit or debit card numbers using a variety of skimmer devices, such as keyboard overlays, stripe scanner overlays, shimmers, video devices, network intercepts, insert/deep insert devices, or RFID scanners and cloners.
It’s not unheard of that someone commits mail fraud, by directly intercepting your mail or picking the lock on your mailbox to steal bank statements and credit cards. They might even go after utility bills, tax returns, or other pieces of mail that have your personal details to gain access to your accounts and take it from there.
The takeaway from all this is that identity thieves are creative, motivated, and you need to be on the lookout. Stay away from suspicious sites and emails that are offering something for nothing or use other psychological tricks like creating a false sense of urgency, misusing authority, tugging on your heartstrings, or trying to get you to panic. Before taking action, take a moment and think before you react.
What Should I Do If Someone Is Trying To Steal My Identity?
In case you have spotted some rather unusual activity on your social media profiles, your financial accounts, or some other place, it’s time to ask yourself this, ‘Has someone stolen my identity?’ ID theft might be tricky to pinpoint if you haven’t been briefed on it, or if you have never heard of it happening to someone. That’s why these are the most important paragraphs that you need to read. If any account in your name is presenting some sort of activity that has not been performed by you, then you should ask yourself these questions.
● Do I have strong or weak passwords “protecting” my virtual accounts?
If they happen to be short, and you’re using the same passwords over and over again, the risk of becoming a victim of identity theft is larger. Once the thieves have broken into one of your accounts, it may not be long before they access more important accounts. Unfortunately, many email providers and website’s passwords have been breached. So it’s possible that an identity thief has access to your email address and known and previously used passwords. If you’re currently using that breached password, you’re at risk.
● Has someone else handled my documents recently?
The problem with this one is that we use credit cards, IDs, driver’s licenses, and other essential documents on a daily or weekly basis. They are given to clerks, store managers, and other providers, but we sometimes don’t know their true intentions. When these documents contain vital details, such as our Social Security Number (SSN), that can hurt us tremendously if they fall into the wrong hands. The value of a stolen passport can be up to $5,000. We should be careful when we allow others to handle our personal documents. Be wary when emailing electronic copies of these documents. Email is unencrypted, which means that anyone can see and read the contents.
● Have my things been misplaced or left alone for a while?
Apart from the documents that most people carry around in their wallet or purse, your cell phone carries a lot of information that can be copied quickly and used to steal your identity. If you have recently left your personal belongings unattended, it would be wise to take a close look at your account activity and contact credit card companies. When traveling, be careful about leaving anything of value or importance in rental cars or hotels, unless you secure them in a safe or keep them on your person. As noted in the CNBC article, even scans of passports are of value to criminals.
What Happens When They Steal Your Identity?
The first signs of identity theft might be related to your credit or debit cards getting charged, but they are not all that can be breached. Some thieves might go for your health insurance, as they may need or know someone who will need the kind of treatment offered by your medical insurance. If someone has stolen your identity, it might mean that they are trying to avoid a debt collector, or that they are using your social security card to take out new personal loans. Criminals can assume your identity to obtain tax returns that are in your name. However, the most common reason for stolen identity is to gain access to your debit cards, credit card numbers, or open a new account in your name.
There are various theft protection methods that you can apply. Identity theft and fraud rely on your identifying information, so you need to do your best to protect them. Keep an eye on your personal belongings at all times. Install software that will protect your sensitive information at rest (hard disk or USB drive encryption) and in-transit (VPN), and where possible, limit your use of, or don’t use public Wi-Fi at all. Be sure to check your credit reports, credit/debit, and bank accounts regularly, and report to the appropriate institution if you notice something suspicious. Put an alert on your credit card that will inform you of any unusual purchases. Rely on fraud alerts to tell you where and when the transaction took place. And be sure to contact law enforcement if your card is missing and being used by a third-party.
If your identity is stolen and you’re a Consumer Affinity customer, we can help file an insurance claim and help you restore your identity. Learn more about Consumer Affinity’s Credit Monitor service, Split®.
In conclusion, much like there are various ways that someone can take advantage of your personal information online, there are ways that you can protect yourself. Don’t just settle for one. Leverage the concept of “defense in depth” and make use of all of them in your effort to avoid identity theft. With these techniques, even if your identity is stolen, you might recognize the signs earlier, which could keep your frustration levels lower.
Catch the next post, “What Steps Should Be Taken After Identity Theft”?