Identity theft is a major concern these days, and it is one of the most used forms of cyberattacks. It is a global problem that makes most online users vulnerable. However, the good news is that there are simple measures that one can take to prevent identity theft.
The gravest problem with online identity theft is that unlike with offline crime where a simple police report will most likely lead to the criminal being caught, due to the online community being global, which means the attacker may be acting from anywhere around the world, bringing them to justice can be extremely challenging. Thus, it becomes difficult even for powerful actors like banks to protect their funds and trace those trying to steal them.
There are many signs and symptoms of identity theft. Have you ever seen an unfamiliar charge on your bank account or received a call from your bank representative questioning you about a transaction you are about to make and about which you do not have a clue? Or you may find yourself turned down for a loan because of a red flag on your credit report. All of these situations can be a sign that your identity has been stolen.
There are many types of identity theft, and they include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Using a stolen card to buy goods
- Gaining unauthorized access to an existing payment account and using it to steal money
- Registering for new accounts using credentials that belong to someone else
It doesn’t stop there at all. For instance, some thieves will go to the extent of applying for an online-based job using other people’s information. In the online consumer community, identity theft is ranked among the top three complaints lodged online. In 2016, over 26 million people became victims of identity theft, with up to $16 billion being estimated as losses incurred by the victims. With most of the businesses and individuals joining the online community for performing business transactions, the number of identity theft cases is not expected to go down. In this day and age, it is safe to assume that everyone who uses the internet is at risk of falling victim to identity theft.
What Is Identity Theft?
Identity theft involves the deliberate utilization of one’s identity without their consent or knowledge for financial gain at the expense of the victim. Now, there are many ways that identity theft can be performed, but we will mention only the most common ones.
Here are some examples of identity theft. Your identity can be stolen through the use of a terminal that has been compromised. In most cases, the store that owns that point of sale will not be aware that their machine has been compromised. Therefore, your bank card details will be captured, leading to the extraction of your funds without your consent. Malicious software can also be used to steal information from your computer. Moreover, an offline tactic, such as fishing for bank statements in the trash bin, can also be used to steal your identity and use it online afterwards.
Taking everything into consideration, it is important to arm yourself with relevant information on how to avoid identity theft. Therefore, we have compiled useful tips on how you can stay safe and keep your identity protected.
How to Stay Safe From Identity Theft
Avoid using your SSN
Although most of the banks allow users to access their bank accounts using their Social Security numbers, it would be wise for you to let your bank know that you will never use your SSN instead of the account number. This will help the bank to block anyone trying to access your account using your SSN. You should treat your SSN very carefully and keep it as safe as possible. If asked for it, first inquire why it is needed and whether it is possible to use another form of identity.
Apply advanced security measures to protect your personal data
Protecting your personal data that you keep online and/or on your mobile phone or computer goes beyond using strong passwords for your accounts. There are certain habits that you need to practice to keep your personal information safe. That begins with changing your passwords as frequently as possible. Try using a reliable password manager if managing your passwords manually is too much stress. This service will help you create a strong password and turn on two-factor authentication. You should also activate biometric authentication to protect your sensitive information. When storing sensitive information on your devices, consider using a secure vault for it, thereby adding a much-needed layer of protection. Always keep your phone or computer updated when it comes to their operating systems and software. It is especially important to keep your anti-virus and anti-malware software up to date. Another thing to keep in mind is that older versions of the Windows OS, such as Windows XP and Windows Vista, no longer receive critical updates, so you should refrain from using them for any online activities.
Be cautious about email
Whenever there is a successful cyberattack, the use of fake emails is among the top reported methods. Therefore, although your email client may promise you that it will filter spam or suspicious incoming email, it is not foolproof. You should be very cautious about what you click on as it may lead to the installation of malicious software on your device. Fake emails may also be designed to seem like they are from authentic organizations, such as banks. They will ask you to reply by providing your sensitive information for some verification purposes. However, a bank will never send such a request, so you should never respond to such emails or click any links they contain.
Shred your important documentation
The shredding of documents may seem to be an outdated measure, but it is still a very useful method when it comes to protecting your data. Remember, although most identity theft cases happen online these days, they sometimes have offline roots. Your sensitive information can be physically stolen and then used online. Therefore, you should be careful with what you throw away as someone may get hold of it and gain access to vital information about you. Thieves often target trash cans, especially if they believe that what has been thrown away may be related to finance. A bank statement, an old bill, and other paperwork with your full details can be used to steal your identity. Thus, instead of exposing yourself by throwing away such data, you should consider using a shredder. Shred anything before throwing it away, and it will prevent anyone from accessing the information. Moreover, you can separate your shredded trash and throw it away at different intervals so that a potential thief will not be able to rearrange the shredded pieces. Or better yet, go back to the old-age method of burning important documentation if something particularly sensitive is involved.
Erase data from old computers and smartphones
Old phones and computers were once our main gadgets, so they may contain some of the most important information about us. Throwing away or giving away your old gadgets may seem harmless, but you should understand that you are actually getting rid of more than just an outdated device. It is important to always factory reset your smartphone if you no longer want to use it or wipe the hard drive of your old computer if you are planning to get rid of it.
Activate warning alerts
Alerts can be annoying, but they are actually necessary for keeping you informed about activities related to your identity. Just like when you put your phone on silent mode and miss important calls, keeping your alerts off will make you miss some potential threat warnings. You can start by requesting your bank to send you a warning whenever funds are to be transferred out. You can contact companies that offer credit cards and ask them to alert you if an account has been created under your name. A credit freeze is another way of protecting yourself as it will help you prevent anyone from accessing your credit reports without your consent. You can also pay for a real-time monitor of identity theft, which will scan millions of dark websites for your information and give you an alert if it finds your data.
Be cautious about calls that you take
Any call that claims to be from a legitimate organization and requests you to give out your personal information is a scam. Official organizations will never do that. Instead of entertaining such calls, just drop and block them. The government will communicate with you via postage and will not initiate any communication via text, social media, email, or phone call. Don’t hand over your credit card details to anyone claiming that you owe them money – instead, tell them to go report you to the police and drop the call.
Keep your mailbox locked
As stated previously, official organizations use postage to keep you updated. This means your mailbox will keep on receiving sensitive information, such as bank statements. Therefore, it is important to keep it locked so that a passerby is not able to obtain what is inside. Social Security cards and passports also land in your mailbox. Therefore, you can imagine what will happen if you do not keep your mailbox locked.
Keeping yourself updated with your activities will help you notice any suspicious signs and symptoms. Check if there is anyone impersonating you by regularly searching for your name on browsers and social media platforms. If you see anything suspicious, report it before it’s too late. By responding quickly to a problem, you will be able to minimize the amount of damage.
Follow data breach notifications
Data breach notifications are like the signs of a coming tornado. In 2013, a third of the people who received data breach notifications became victims of identity theft because they did not take action. When you receive a data breach notification, ensure that you close any accounts and cards related. Update your passwords and make sure you take all the steps recommended in the notification.
Transfer your data securely
Also, make sure you use a secure service to transfer your files and folders. If you are concerned about the security of your data, you should consider using FileWhopper. The program has an intuitive design that makes it user-friendly. With FileWhopper, you get to transfer files and folders of any size without committing to any subscriptions – you pay as you go, meaning you are charged exactly for your transfers.
Here is how FileWhopper works:
- Use the tool’s online interface to upload the large file or folder you wish to send and see how much it will cost. Keep in mind that your first transfer of up to 5GB is absolutely free.
- Download FileWhopper’s tiny app and use it to upload your data.
- Your transfer will be assigned a unique password and download link. Share them securely with the intended recipient.
- Your recipient can start downloading your item while the upload is still in progress.
- Your data is kept available for download for the next 14 days on FileWhopper’s servers and is then permanently deleted, leaving no traces behind.
When it comes to identity theft, no one is safe, so it is important not to take chances. This is a form of crime that does not target based on your social influence or financial status – everyone is a potential victim. Thus, it is important to take note of the methods outlined above and start applying them when it comes to the way you treat your sensitive data. Although it may have never happened to you, continuing to be negligent may increase your chances of becoming the next victim of identity theft.